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Bill would penalize districts for not having in-person learning

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Posted at 6:13 PM, Jan 21, 2021

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — One of the more controversial bills during the special session on education would strip local districts of millions of dollars in state funding if they don't get kids back in the classroom.

The bill requires all districts in Tennessee to have 70 in-person learning days by the end of the 2021 school year.

Sponsor and Portland, TN Republican Representative William Lamberth said parents need the option to send their kids back to school.

"We have virtual learning that is offered statewide," said Rep. Lamberth. "There is in-person education that is offered in most districts. We want to make sure that is offered in every single district."

If the districts don't comply, the state could pull or reduce BEP funding.

"That's all we're doing in Tennessee is making sure that every single school is open," said Lamberth. "To make sure that there is an option that every single student that desperately needs to go to school, virtual school works for a lot of families, but not every single family."

Democratic lawmakers said the bill unfairly targets big, urban districts like Nashville and Memphis.

"[Gov. Bill Lee has] deferred to local governments and LEAs. He's thrown them under the bus while doing so," said Nashville Democrat John Ray Clemmons. "Now, all of a sudden he wants to criticize us for making the decision that we believe is in the best interest of our children?"

Nashville currently receives approximately $282 million. That's nearly a third of the school system's budget.

Nashville Mayor John Cooper said school districts shouldn't have to choose between money and safety.

"We all want our kids back in the classroom, but the bill in the legislature won't cancel the pandemic," said Cooper during a press conference. "You can't tap your toes and make the virus disappear. You have to be realistic and not just react with understandable frustration to the situation, but follow the science and get us reopened as safely and as quickly as we can."