Live from Music Row Thursday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton to the newsmakers line to discuss the literacy and learning loss related bills.
Leahy: We are joined on the line now by our good friend Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, Cam Sexton. Welcome speaker Sexton.
Sexton: Good morning. Good morning.
Leahy: You have a busy special session going on today. Tell us about it.
Sexton: We do. We have a few bills that are in committee today. We hope to have them on the floor this afternoon late about three o’clock. It will be literacy and learning loss in Tennessee. And then teacher accountability legislation. We have a full day and hopefully, we’ll get some good things passed by the end of the day.
Leahy: So you have an expectation that one or all of those I guess it’s four bills will be passed today?
Sexton: Yes. So we moved them out of committees yesterday. Some of them. They have to go through finance today, but they should make it out. And so far so good. It looks good for a vote on the House floor today after three and hopefully, we’ll get it all done.
Leahy: Wow! That is moving very fast. And when does the Senate undertake these bills?
Sexton: So their bills are in finance too so we’re moving along about the same pace. And so I think they’re on pace with us. So there may be another bill or two that we may try to go for I’m not sure yet. But we’re hopeful that we might be able to get another bill out of there.
Leahy: So if all four of these bills pass today and perhaps one other pass in the near term, when would you then complete this special session?
Sexton: It can be completed sometime tonight or tomorrow. I would expect it to be out here no later than tomorrow.
Leahy: Wow, you are making some news here today. I did not realize you were moving that quickly. What can you tell our listeners Speaker Sexton about these bills? What’s the importance of these bills?
Sexton: Well, the importance is one of the bills is we’re hoping to have a debate on is about trying to get schools open and kids back in the classroom. And what we do know is we expect there to be learning loss in the state of Tennessee. Before we are only reading at a third-grade level maybe 37 or 38 percent proficient. Math about the same proficiency.
We also know that this month we talked to the Department of Corrections and from January to March the people who went into prison had a third-grade math level and the first-grade reading level. So it’s very important that we improve our education in K-12 especially in reading and math and writing. And so these bills are taken into effect an after-school program that’s designed to help kids gain ground not to fall behind. Also like a mini summer camp on subjects for kids who are behind so they can get caught up.
What we do know is once they fall behind is hard to get them caught back up again. So we’re having everything designed to try to get people in those third grades, kindergarten, and second, sped up so that they can catch up and not fall behind. And when they graduate high school, they’re prepared to go get a job, prepared to go to college or community college. And if they do that, they don’t have to take remedial classes, which is a big issue when you talk to community colleges here in Tennessee.
Leahy: Now of all of these bills on the agenda passed today, does that mean that our K-12 schools around the state will begin convening in person, or is that a district by district decision still?
Sexton: So that’s another bill that week that’s not part of the package right now that we’re hoping for. Right now we’re working on making sure that we can teach phonics in schools. teaching people how to read doing after school programs and the summer programs as well as teacher accountability. What we hope to have passed either now or at some point in the next session when we come back in February is a way to get tools to open back up because we believe having in the classroom is the best thing to do. And there’s a Duke study that shows that the spread or what they think may happen is not what really is happening.
Leahy: If that bill were to pass then would every public school in the state be required to reopen in person?
Sexton: They would want to because the reopening would be tied to their BEP funding that they get. And so they would have a potential loss of funding if they did not open.
Leahy: What do you make of this little back and forth between Governor Lee and the superintendent of schools in Shelby County who really took offense to the idea that Shelby County Schools should come back for in-person training. I can’t describe it as anything other than a kind of what seemed to be to me like there was a political diatribe from the Shelby County, these my words, not yours, pushing back against him personally. What do you make of that?
Sexton: Well, I mean, I know Shelby and other school systems. There are some in our area who are doing wonderful in their hybrid plan. They go back when they can. And if they don’t and they’re over you have a hundred eighty academic days in the calendar year and K-12. There’s a lot of schools over a hundred academic days, which is very well. You have some who are in 20, 25 academic days for the entire year so far.
In Shelby County, it’s our opinion that they need to open. There’s also probably going to be another bill when we get out of a special session about allowing the school boards to make that decision on when they open and not those independent health boards making those decisions. I think that’s a problem down in Shelby.
But we have a philosophical disagreement with the school’s who think that they can’t go back in that they want to remain virtual. and we don’t think the students are getting what they need virtually 100 percent of the time. Especially in those lower grades of kindergarten through about fourth or fifth. How are you going to tell a first greater to go online for six hours a day?
Leahy: It doesn’t work does it? It just doesn’t work.
Sexton: That’s right.
Listen to the full third hour here:
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