The 112th General Assembly has adjourned for 2022, and it was a very successful year. We have taken measures for Tennessee to be a better place to live, work and to raise a family. I will go over the laws passed this session over the next few weeks.

Ensuring Fairness in Girls’ Sports / K-12 — The General Assembly approved a new law to enforce legislation passed last year that prohibits biological males from participating in girls’ sports in public K-12 education institutions.

The new law requires the Tennessee Department of Education to withhold a portion of state funds from public middle or high schools that fail or refuse to uphold state law and instead allow biological males to compete in girls’ sports at public K-12

schools.  

Increasing Computer

Science Requirement — A new law seeks to increase workforce readiness starting in middle and high school by requiring more education in computer science and technology. The new law requires the State Board of Education to adopt comprehensive computer science education standards by the 2023-24 school year.

Under the law, every high school student has to complete a full year of computer science education in order to graduate, starting with freshmen in the 2024-25 school year. Additionally, every middle school student is required to receive at least one course in computer science education while elementary students would be required to receive age-appropriate computer science education.

At the high-school level, the law intends for the computer science requirement to be in lieu of — not in addition to — an existing math or science requirement to be determined by the Board of Education.

Revising Teacher Evaluation

Criteria — A new law requires greater consideration of student achievement in teacher evaluations. The measure lowers the teacher observation component of the evaluation from 50 percent to 40 percent and increases the student achievement component from 15 percent to 25 percent to more adequately measure the proficiency of students.

Alleviating School Staffing Challenges — To address ongoing staffing challenges in schools, a new law allows retired members of the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System (TCRS) to be reemployed as a K-12 teacher, K-12 substitute teacher or as a K-12 bus driver without the loss or suspension of the retired member’s TCRS benefits.

Currently, retired members of TCRS may return to work, but only for a maximum of 120 days. This bill removes that limit and extends service to one year renewable annually, provided there are no other qualified applicants.

During the reemployment, retirement benefits would be reduced to 70 percent of the retirement allowance the member is otherwise entitled to receive, and the existing salary cap would be removed.

The bill is effective from July 1, 2022, to June 30, 2025.

Expanding Eligibility for CTE Teachers in High Schools – Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses have become an important aspect of preparing Tennessee’s high school students for quality, high-paying jobs upon graduating. A new law makes it easier for local schools to find CTE teachers, of which there has been a shortage.

The measure lowers the requirement for a person to qualify to teach CTE courses. The law lessens the amount of work experience a person must have from five years of relevant work experience in the last 10 years, to three years of relevant experience within the last five years. It also allows a person to qualify to teach with an out-of-state industry certification.

Age-Appropriate Materials Act of 2022 — To increase transparency and oversight of instructional materials and literature used in public schools, a new law requires public schools to post online a list of the materials in their libraries. It also requires a standardized review framework to ensure school library collections are periodically evaluated for age-appropriateness. If a school should find a material is not age-appropriate based on student, parental or employee feedback, then the school would have to remove it. The decision is ultimately up to the school in conjunction with the school board.

The goal of the new law is to have parents, teachers, students and administrations within different communities all work together to make sure Tennessee children are able to receive a great education.

Ensuring Age-Appropriate Materials in School Libraries

Similarly, legislation was approved this year that requires the State Textbook and Instructional Materials Quality Commission to issue guidance for LEAs and charter schools to use when reviewing materials in a library to ensure that the materials are appropriate for the age and maturity levels of the students who will access them. It also ensures that the materials are suitable and consistent with the educational mission of the school and establishes an appeal process for a determination made by the board.

The measure expands the Commission by adding two librarians appointed by the Speaker of the Senate and the Speaker of the House. Working together with Gov. Lee’s Age-Appropriate Materials Act of 2022, this legislation will ensure students learn with materials appropriate to their age and grade level.

Blocking Obscene Materials on School Computers — A new law was passed to ensure vendors that contract with schools comply with state law to prohibit pornography and obscene materials from school computers. It requires vendors to take steps to block any inappropriate content on school computers.

If a provider fails to comply with the new law, then a LEA may withhold further payments to the provider and ultimately consider non-compliance a breach of contract.

The law also requires each local board of education to establish a mechanism for parents to report a failure of the technology selected by the LEA to prevent access to harmful materials, and submit an annual report to the State Board of Education on the successes or failures of the technology.

Establishing a 10-point Grading Scale for Tennessee

Schools — To align with neighboring states, the General Assembly approved legislation to establish a 10-point grading scale for grades nine through 12 in schools statewide. Tennessee is currently on a seven-point grading scale.

Starting with the 2022-23 school year and thereafter, the “A” letter grade corresponds to scoring a percentage between 90 and 100, the “B” grade is between 80 and 89, the “C” grade is between 70 and 79, the “D” grade is between 60 and 69, and the “F” grade is within the range of zero and 59.

The move will also generate additional scholarship recipients by lowering the threshold for an “A” grade from 93 to 90.

Increasing HOPE Scholarship — The General Assembly approved an $85 million increase in funding for the HOPE scholarship this year.

With the increase, the scholarship award will raise from $3,500 to $4,500 per year for freshman and sophomores at four-year institutions and from $4,500 to $5,700 for juniors and seniors. It will increase from $3,000 to $3,200 per year for students at two-year schools.

To be eligible for the HOPE scholarship, students must graduate from a Tennessee high school with a 3.0 GPA or higher and have a 21 on their ACT or 1060 on their SAT.

The program is funded from revenue from the Tennessee Lottery.

The award is estimated to impact 32,637 freshmen and sophomores and 30,537 juniors and seniors at four-year schools along with 15,901 students at two-year schools.

The bill also increases eligibility for scholarships to the Tennessee College of Applied Technology, aiming to target the 12.6 percent of Tennesseans ages 16 to 24 who are not in school currently.

The 28th District State Senate seat is held by Dr. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, and includes Giles and five other counties.

The 28th District State Senate seat is held by Dr. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, and includes Giles and five other counties.

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