NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — With the third-grade retention law taking up much of the conversation around education in Tennessee, Rep. Scott Cepicky (R-Culleoka) wanted to act.
He’s planning on introducing new legislation. “You have to turn seven before the grade starts or take a local assessment to show that you can do the work in first grade to allow those students to segway in who are younger,” Cepicky said.
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If a 6-year-old student isn’t deemed ready by the assessment, this bill would hold them back in kindergarten for a year. The idea behind the bill came from data Cepicky said he asked the Comptroller to provide.
“It showed that older students were almost outperforming our younger students at a two-to-one ratio,” he said. “That is a huge number, you’re talking about possibly raising our literacy rates 15 to 20%. That would put us almost top ten in the nation in education.”
Though the legislation isn’t specifically coming as a result of the third-grade retention law, it’s aiming to tackle the same problem in a different way. Cepicky said it’s more of a side-by-side solution rather than one over the other.
“Could we create a classroom that older students could take advantage of to get better results for us in Tennessee?” he said. “We’re hoping this bill could be just another bullet in the holster to get us where we want to be in Tennessee.”
But the potential bill has its detractors.
“So you’ve created a third-grade retention bill that is an absolutely terrible bill, and you’re going to try to remedy it by changing the way we do first grade,” Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) said.
She referenced the fact that ‘parental choice’ has been a big talking point for Republicans over the past year, an allusion to the debate over charter schools in Tennessee.
“The people who scream about parent choice are taking away the parents’ choice here. Some kids are ready, and they need to get them to school,” Johnson said. “Some kids aren’t, and a lot of parents make that decision. But why would we legislate that?”
Furthermore, it would also mean some students don’t graduate high school until they’re 19, meaning an extra year living at home, creating additional costs for parents.
“What you’re going to have is another year sitting at home for kids who don’t have any resources at home,” Johnson said. “So, really, they’re just going to get further behind.”
News 2 asked Cepicky about the potential extra costs, and he pointed to the fact that public schooling is free and the extra year can be a boon for future endeavors.
“Our students can take advantage of what they want to do because they’re successful in school, not have limiting factors of what they’re eligible for because of their lack of success,” he said.
When he files this bill, it’ll then head to the General Assembly for the next steps.
Cepicky is optimistic about the bill’s chances of passing.
“The data that the Comptroller has supplied is huge for us, it’s not an opinion. The Comptroller gave us factual evidence,” he said. “If we can talk through this, it stands a better chance for passing than failing.”