GMN Sunday Spotlight: Testing, broadband access among goals for lawmakers in next legislative session

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Tennessee lawmakers weighed in on the topic of education as more schools return to in-person learning, and said testing and broadband access were among their greatest concerns.

The state’s house education committee heard from different stakeholders last week, and put education commissioner Dr. Penny Schwinn in the hot seat.

She later shared that preliminary data from her department projects an estimated 50-percent decrease in proficiency rates in 3rd-grade reading and a projected 65-percent decrease in math proficiency.

MORE: TN Education Commissioner: 50% drop in 3rd grade reading proficiency; 65% in math

Representative Scott Cepicky said he was concerned about why the information wasn’t shared when Dr. Schwinn took part in the Summer Study hearing.

“As a member of the education committee, we were sitting up in that committee for two days and heard nothing about this study, which is another concerning issue I have and most people know the concerns I have with Commissioner Schwinn. I’ll be reaching out to her office to clarify,” said Representative Cepicky. “With the stakeholders sitting there in that committee this study, in my opinion, could’ve been brought to the forefront and we could’ve had meaningful discussions on what’s our path forward in this. It’s okay to call the three-alarm fire but now we have to take a course to try to put this fire out.”

Representative Harold M. Love, Jr. is also a member of the House Education Committee and said it’s important for parents to be offered help with getting students caught up on learning.

“One of the takeaways that I was glad to hear about was the fact that there will be opportunities for parents to receive financial support to have academic recovery for their children,” said Love. “When you talk about getting your child up to speed it’s through after-school programs, it’s through tutorial services, and a parent may not be able to afford that so if the state is going to provide some money for that it’s a wonderful thing.”

Love said testing will have to be an issue addressed during the next legislative session and Representative Cepicky agreed. Cepicky said most superintendents did not want their districts to be held accountable for what they’re sure will be troubling test scores.

“My banker comes out of me and says “Let me get this straight – you’re okay with us testing but you don’t want to hold everybody accountable for it because you know how bad the tests will be?’ So why don’t we do this? We have discussions with this with some of the members – why don’t we not have end-of-course testing this year, which would therefore allow our teachers (in mid-March they start transitioning into testing mode) [to] continue on for another two months to teach our kids the standards that we want them to learn,” Cepicky said. “Then take that 10 to 15 million dollars that it’s going to cost us to test and use that for a statewide summer school program for our kids that need it the most to really focus on trying to get them caught up by next August.”

Virtual learning was another big topic during the Education Committee hearings that lawmakers hope to discuss during the the next legislative session.

“We must expand broadband in the state of Tennessee. We cannot expect our kids to learn virtually whether they are in K-12 or higher education if we don’t have access to broadband in all of our counties. It’s something we’re going to have to take care of when we get back in session because we can’t but the burden on our co-ops, electric utilities, and city governments by themselves. They need support from our internet and broadband industries,” said Representative Love. “One of the difficulties in government is these policy windows being open and sometimes the policy window is not open until you have some tragedy or you have some instance where it really is brought for everyone to see. We’ve discussed broadband at least for the last 8 years that I’ve been up here and we’ve even had broadband grants but not to the extent that they were needed. I’ve had colleagues for years talking about that they’ve had children who are having to go to McDonald’s parking lots, having to go to the library parking lot just to get broadband access.”

Love said he hoped state leaders will be willing to work together on getting all issues addressed for their constinuents.

“We have to appreciate that we’re all in this state together and we cannot disparage each other and we cannot neglect funding initiatives that will help each other. We have to oftentimes walk that mile in somebody else’s shoes to really understand what they’re dealing with,” said Love. “That’s why it spans the whole conversation from police and law enforcement involvement with communities of color all the way to broadband access to rural and urban communities.”

News 2 digs deeper into how schools are moving forward safely for the new academic year. See how other districts around Middle Tennessee are handling everything from classroom concerns to the future of sports in our special series. Click here to see more.

Stay with News 2 for continuing coverage of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

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(This reflects what the TDH is reporting each day at 2 p.m. CST )

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