NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Lawmakers passed several key bills in the special session focused on education, including funding for teacher pay raises.
The special session, called by Governor Bill Lee, is aimed at getting the state's education system back on track after negative impacts were reported in reading and math comprehension. The session started on Tuesday.
In four days, four bills passed through both houses.
Republicans call the passage of the laws a win, but some of the bills are controversial and some believe there could be unintended consequences.
For example, one bill requires after-school and summer school programs for kids who are falling behind.
That same bill would allow districts to hold back 3rd graders who aren't reading on grade level.
"Every 8 year old is going to be in danger of being forced to repeat 3rd grade if they don't score enough on the first standardized test they ever take," said Nashville Democrat Senator Jeff Yarbro. "That is god awful policy and anyone who pays attention to these things knows that."
During the period leading up to the special session, democrats also say they were not included in any of the decision making.
One controversial proposal didn't pass, through.
It was the bill that would've reduced funding for districts if they didn't return kids to school in the 2021 school year.
Governor Lee wouldn't say whether or not he supported the bill today, instead renewing his pledge he believed all children used to go
"Kids need to be in school," said Lee. "It's widely understood by most parents by most districts, obviously, I think kids need to be in school."
A bill to increase teacher pay passed, adding $42 million in the BEP for districts to increase pay. It's a 4% increase, but it doesn't mean pay will be increased for all teachers by 4%.
"Every district has a different formula for the salary distribution from the BEP," said Franklin Republican Senator Jack Johnson. "So, in some districts, it might be a 1.8% increase, in other districts it might be less."
Some lawmakers defended the bill which would defund schools. They said the bill could make an appearance in the normal session.
One of the more controversial bills during the session 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.
If the districts don't comply, the state could pull or reduce BEP funding.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. William Lamberth (R - Portland), said it's "critical" to get schools back open. Lamberth said he hopes the bill will go forward in the regular session "in some form" so parents can have an in-person option.
"The Biden administration has made [reopening schools] a major goal for the first 100 days, and so this isn't a Republican or a Democrat issue. This is an issue that's critical to our children," Lamberth said.
However, on Thursday, Democratic lawmakers said the bill unfairly targets big, urban districts like Nashville and Memphis.
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.