Teachers voice concerns as state legislature takes up special session on education

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — State Lawmakers made their way to Nashville this week for a special session called by the governor.

The session began Tuesday to address what Governor Lee says are “urgent issues facing Tennessee students and schools.”

WATE 6 On Your Side’s Kristen Gallant spoke to both lawmakers and educators in regards to the week ahead.

Tuesday was one of what what will probably be a week long conversation regarding the 2021-22 school year.

Legislators will be looking at five key education issues including what some lawmakers call “learning loss,” funding, accountability, literacy, and teacher pay.

“We’re meeting today because it’s time to intervene for our kids,” said Governor Bill Lee as he started Tuesday’s special called meeting addressing house leaders.

“It has been a much-needed special session almost every year,” said Tanya Coats with the Knox County Education Association. “It took a pandemic for us to have a special session.”

Coats said this pandemic is just putting an exclamation point on already existing issues.

“When they talk about that we’ve been behind in reading, we’re behind in math, we’ve been behind way before this pandemic.”

She added that now teachers are suffering, too.

“It is up to the state to provide educators with what they need.”

Proposed legislation by the Governor giving teachers a one time 2% raise has been a touchy topic of discussion for both lawmakers and educators.

“Two percent is not going to help us deal with mental, physical, and emotional needs we have going on, because we’re still going to do our job,” said Coats.

Newly elected State House District 13 Representative, Sam Mckenzie (D) said, “The funding is there. So, it makes sense to have a retroactive 4% raise. Take that raise back to July one, give the teachers something that’s really going to be meaningful.”

Another area of discussion is students not logging into virtual classes due to both lack of interest and access.

“Internet for all is a necessity,” said Mckenzie, “We’re not going away from this virtual situation and time soon.”

Though having students in the classroom is the goal for all, lawmakers and educators say mass vaccinations have to come first.

“Now we have to worry about if Covid is coming to the classroom when we have brick and mortar buildings that are over 100 years old across this nation, in particular in Knox county, that are not equipped in ensuring that kids are safe,” said Coats.

The special session is suppose to reconvene on Wednesday.

McKenzie and some other lawmakers say they hope these conversations can be bipartisan, focusing mainly on teachers and students.

“I’m just hoping that this will be a bipartisan event,” said McKenzie. “Education is one thing that I think we can all agree on. You know we can talk dollars and cents and some things get controversial, but in terms of educating our students, especially K-12, hopefully well get wide range agreement and this will be a great session.”

As of now, it is unclear on how long legislators will remain in special session.

This allows the house to focus on selected legislation and expedite the normal process of passing bills if needed.

Janelle B. Smith

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