education

Lee revives $250M mental health trust fund proposal for K-12 students

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference on Tennessee’s coronavirus response in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Gov. Bill Lee is reviving a proposal to create $250 million trust fund to tackle mental health issues for K-12 students. Lee made a similar proposal last year, but it was abandoned amid uncertainty about the state’s budget picture amid the pandemic.

Here is the full release from the Lee adminstration:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee re-introduced the Mental Health Trust Fund in a renewed proposal to assist K-12 families who are facing significant mental health issues in the wake of COVID-19. This proposal allocates $250 million in available funds to create strong mental health services for school-aged students through a systemwide, evidence-based approach.

“The mental health of all Tennessee students is essential to their safety, education and success beyond the classroom,” said Gov. Lee. “While my administration proposed these critical mental health supports last year, we now have the available funding and a greater need than ever before to ensure our students have access to mental health resources. I thank the members of the General Assembly for their partnership in this important effort.”

“We know the earlier we can intervene, the better outcomes are for children and families,” said TDMHSAS Commissioner Marie Williams, LCSW. “The services that will be funded by this investment will allow us to increase the services available from community mental health providers and schools, preventing children from entering mental health crisis situations and ending up in an emergency room.”

Services supported by the Mental Health Trust Fund would include: 

– Direct clinical services in schools

– Mental health awareness and promotion

– Suicide prevention and postvention strategies

– Trauma-informed programs and practices

– Violence and bullying prevention

– Project Basic, which includes mental health supports

There is a significant need for strong K-12 mental health supports:

– Nationally, one in five children has a mental health diagnosis in any given year

– Over 60% of children who receive mental health services do so through their school

– Youth mental health has worsened in the last decade: From 2014 to 2019, the prevalence of Major Depressive Episode (MDE) in Tennessee youth ages 12-17 increased from 9.1%

– The approximate prevalence of any mental illness in the past year among Tennessee youth is about 300,000

– In January 2021, Tennessee ranked 28th in overall mental health and 34th overall in youth mental health 

– School closures during COVID-19 limited students’ access to mental health services and caused a pause in critical mental health reporting

The Lee administration has taken strong action to address mental health:

– Behavioral Health Safety Net for Children: Essential mental health supports for uninsured children age 3-17 beginning September 2020

School Based Behavioral Health Liaison (SBBHL) Expansion:Expanded proven program to all 95 counties

TN Suicide Prevention Network: Expanded regional directors to increase coverage and boosted training in suicide prevention

– Youth and Young adult Mental Health Awareness and Promotion:Funding granted to three separate programs that reached more than 11,000 individuals

Here is Gov. Bill Lee’s special session address to lawmakers

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters following his address to a joint convention of the General Assembly on Jan. 19, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Here is the full text of Gov. Bill Lee’s speech to lawmakers Tuesday, as prepared for delivery:

Thank you Lt. Governor McNally and Speaker Sexton, Speaker Pro-Tem Haile and Speaker Pro-Tem Marsh for the opportunity to convene on behalf of our students. 

I also thank Leader Johnson, Leader Lamberth, members of the education committee who have worked closely with us, and I want to thank all the members of the General Assembly. 

We have a shared belief that the foundation of our state is the strength of her people. 

As we approach the one year mark of managing the COVID-19 pandemic in Tennessee and facing the number of other challenges in this state and on the federal level, it’s a common refrain to hear “this is a historic time”, or an “unprecedented time” or “never before have seen a challenge of this magnitude.” 

In many ways, that’s certainly true, and I’ve found there has been no greater place for COVID to cause sweeping disruption than in our K-12 school system.

This disruption has left students to navigate unprecedented challenges without the routine of learning in a classroom, with classmates and a trusted teacher. 

We’re meeting today because it’s time to intervene for our kids who are staring down record learning losses, that in the short-term, mean an inability to read at their grade level or understand basic math. 

But in the long-term, those learning losses mean higher incarceration rates and poverty as adults. 

Our work here this week bears great significance on the safety of our neighborhoods and the prosperity of our state for a generation. 

Big challenges require decisive action, which is why we have agreed to meet this week in an extraordinary legislative session. 

We cannot wait, because our students cannot wait. 

It would be much simpler to hope or to assume that disruptions to school caused by COVID will just come out in the wash. 

But unfortunately, the data – the science – tells us that isn’t true. 

Data suggests there are very real consequences to keeping students out of the classroom for this long. 

Nationally, that looks like a 50% drop in reading proficiency and a 65% drop in math proficiency with third grade students. 

That sort of forecast is forcing an unacceptable future on our kids and it’s why we are proposing a series of reforms around learning loss and literacy. We are also proposing a pause around some aspects of accountability. 

These data points are important, and indeed we have used data to make all decisions impacting our schools. 

Months ago, when critics were loud and the scare tactics were louder with all the reasons why we couldn’t safely return students and teachers to the classroom, we traded that speculation for science. 

We followed that science down a path that would make us one of the first states in the country to get students and teachers back in the classroom this fall across 145 of our 147 districts. 

Tennessee has thus become a national leader in embracing the courage to get back in the classroom and show that it can be done. 

I commend those districts, those local leaders and educators for not settling for the path of least resistance and hiding behind month after month of virtual learning with no end in sight. 

Instead, we saw the vast majority of our schools, led by determined superintendents put in the work that was needed for one reason: their students were counting on them. 

And kids have a lot to say about in-person learning or the lack thereof. 

In a survey of more than 20,000 school kids across nine states, only 39% of students in grades 5 through 12 reported that they ‘learned a lot almost every day’ during the shutdown.’[1] 

64% of students overall reported experiencing distractions at home that interfered with schoolwork.

And worse so, Black and Latino students reported facing more obstacles to learning at home than white and Asian students.

Here’s the bottom line: you can’t say “follow the science” and keep schools closed. 

You can’t say “I believe in public education” and keep schools closed. 

And you can’t say you’re putting the needs of students first and keep schools closed. 

Kids do better in school: we know that – parents know that. 

That’s why I’m so proud of our districts who have kids in school, and to those who remain closed, I would offer this simple encouragement: follow the science. 

Getting kids back in the classroom is imperative. But the reality is that the impacts from COVID would require us to act urgently even if every student was back to in-person learning tomorrow. 

First, let’s talk about learning loss. 

Paired with a full return to the classroom, we are proposing a targeted intervention to reach those kids who are falling behind in reading and math. 

Existing laws have created an environment of too little, too late when it comes to helping kids before third grade. 

We are proposing a third-grade reading gate which means that we make sure students are prepared before we pass them through to the fourth grade. 

When we stop the cycle of passing without preparation, we give kids a better chance at succeeding in middle school and beyond. 

Our proposal also includes a full-time tutoring corps, after school camps, learning loss bridge camps and summer learning camps. 

Upon passage of our proposed legislation, we will be prepared to execute and administer these targeted interventions beginning this summer. 

Now, let’s talk about literacy. 

So much of our success in K-12 hinges on building better readers. When only 34% of Tennessee students are proficient or advanced readers by fourth grade, and that’s pre-COVID, something isn’t working and it’s time to get back to the basics. 

We need to teach our kids to read with phonics. 

It’s the way we learned to read. It’s the way we taught our kids. 

With this proposal, kindergarteners through third grade will be taught phonics as the primary form of reading instruction. 

And to make sure our progress is on track, we’ve developed a screening tool to help parents and teachers identify a struggling student more quickly. 

Simple methods like phonics serve our kids better – Commissioner Schwinn knows it and I know it and that’s what we’re going to use in Tennessee. 

We believe that these tools will work for our students but we have to have a clear picture of their starting point to get a window into the progress that they’ll make. 

So we will keep TCAP testing in place for the 20/21 school year so that parents and teachers know where students stand. 

However, there will be no negative consequences associated with student assessments so that the focus can remain on getting firm footing back in place after the uncertainty of time away from the classroom. 

To be clear: no teacher will be penalized due to test results this school year. But we’ll be relying on teachers and districts like never before to help us get these kids back on track. 

This approach isn’t going to be easy but as leaders we must do what it takes for our kids. 

We’re pursuing both bold interventions and a return to the basics and for any of these goals to come to fruition, we have to account for our teachers. 

We are proposing additional funding through both an appropriations bill this week and our upcoming budget to give a pay raise to every single teacher in Tennessee.

We are proposing to increase the salary component of our funding formula by 4%. This is not just about compensation – it’s an investment in better outcomes for our kids and we should all place an expectation on school districts that these dollars get passed directly to our teachers.

In the last decade, our students have made great strides in both reading and math and yet the events of the last year stand to threaten that progress. 

We aren’t where we want to be as a state but we have a tremendous opportunity here and now to not only stave off a monumental crisis but to forge a new path. 

Our new approach isn’t just about making up the losses.

These changes to our education system will actually educate our kids better in the future than we did before the pandemic. 

And that is a redemption story for our education system that will have ripple effects on our students’ lives for decades and well beyond the classroom. 

Thank you for your time today and careful consideration to each of these proposals. We should not miss this opportunity and together we’ll change the future of Tennessee. Thank you.


Lee releases special session legislation

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee is releasing the Republican’s package of bills to be taken up by lawmakers in a special session scheduled to begin on Tuesday.

Here’s the release from the governor’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced special session legislation addressing K-12 student learning loss and the adverse effects on Tennessee students’ proficiency in reading and math after extended time away from the classroom due to COVID-19.

“COVID-19 has disrupted every aspect of education and we are on the cusp of severe consequences for our students if we don’t act now,” said Gov. Lee. “Data suggests that Tennessee third graders are facing an estimated 50% drop in reading proficiency and a projected 65% drop in math proficiency and that is not an acceptable path for our kids[1]. I thank Lt. Gov. McNally, Speaker Sexton and members of the General Assembly for acting quickly on behalf of our students and taking up intervention measures during the special session.”

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reports that only 34% of Tennessee students are proficient or advanced readers by fourth grade. Research shows that students who do not achieve reading proficiency by third grade are more likely to drop out of high school, be incarcerated or experience poverty as adults.

In addition to learning loss interventions and accountability hold harmless measures, Gov. Lee will propose adding funding for teacher salaries.

“Educators across the state are working tirelessly to turn the tide for their students and help them regain critical math and reading skills,” said Gov. Lee. “We believe they should be compensated for their efforts and look forward to working with the General Assembly to provide funding for our teachers.”

Intervening to Stop Learning Loss – SB 7002

  • Requires interventions for struggling students including after-school learning mini-camps, learning loss bridge camps and summer learning camps, beginning summer 2021
  • Program prioritizes students who score below proficient in both reading (ELA) and math subjects
  • Creates the Tennessee Accelerated Literacy and Learning Corps to provide ongoing tutoring for students throughout the entire school year
  • Strengthens laws around a third grade reading gate so we no longer advance students who are not prepared

Building Better Readers with Phonics – SB 7003

  • Ensures local education agencies (LEAs) use a phonics-based approach for kindergarten through third grade reading instruction
  • Establishes a reading screener for parents and teachers to identify when students need help, well before third grade
  • Provides training and support for educators to teach phonics-based reading instruction

Accountability to Inform – SB 7001

  • Extends hold harmless provisions from the 2019-20 school year to the 2020-21 school year so that students, teachers, schools and districts do not face any negative consequences associated with student assessments
  • Provides parents and educators with assessment data including TCAP testing to provide an accurate picture of where Tennessee students are and what supports are needed to offset any learning losses

Lee calls special session for Jan. 19

The House meets at the state Capitol in Nashville on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee is calling a special session the week of Jan. 19 to address a range of education issues, including a literacy proposal that has run into trouble with lawmakers in the past.

Lawmakers will be in town anyway, as they as scheduled to gavel in the 112th General Assembly on Jan. 12.

Here’s the release from the governor’s office.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Governor Bill Lee today announced a call for the Tennessee General Assembly to convene for a special legislative session on January 19, 2021 to address urgent issues facing Tennessee students and schools in the 2021-22 school year.

Preliminary data projects an estimated 50% decrease in proficiency rates in 3rd grade reading and a projected 65% decrease in proficiency in math. This loss only exacerbates issues that existed prior to the pandemic, where only one third of Tennessee third graders were reading on grade level.

“We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense disruption for Tennessee’s students, educators, and districts, and the challenges they face must be addressed urgently,” said Gov. Lee. “Even before the virus hit, and despite years of improvement, too many of our state’s students were still unable to read on grade level. I’m calling on the legislature to join us in addressing these serious issues so we can equip our hardworking educators and districts with the resources and supports they need to set our students on the path to success.”

“As we have heard from districts since March, students need their teachers and schools like never before,” said Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “No child’s future should suffer academically because of COVID-19. Not only as commissioner, but as a mother of two school-aged children, I am grateful for the bold solutions that our governor and legislature will provide for our students and schools across the state and the department stands ready to work together to accomplish this mission-critical work.”

“In addition to presenting a public health crisis and disrupting our economy, the coronavirus also created enormous obstacles for our parents, teachers and students. Tennessee has made tremendous improvements in education over the last decade. The virus has begun to put all of that at risk,” said Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge). “It is of paramount importance that we take steps to reverse the learning loss that has taken place and prevent any further erosion of our progress. I appreciate Governor Lee calling this special session to draw our focus on the pressing needs of education in this state. The Senate will work with the House and the Administration to address these issues in an expeditious and efficient manner to the benefit of our students and our teachers.”

“I support Gov. Lee’s call for a special session on education,” said House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville). “The pandemic has caused considerable disruption for our students, teachers and schools.  Our goal is to make sure students are learning in the classroom, teachers have the resources they need, and our students have additional assistance in their educational journeys to improve their chances of success.”

“Over the past few years Tennessee has seen exciting growth in student achievement and we must take all necessary steps to make sure our students continue to learn through this ongoing pandemic,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin). “I salute the governor for calling us into special session to address this important problem and thank him for his continued commitment to education.”

“As a parent of two children in the public school system and a Representative of so many thousands of other families, I know it is critical for us to have the best education system in the nation,” said House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland). “I appreciate the Governor calling us into Special Session to ensure our children and teachers have the support they need in these difficult times.”

During the special session, the legislature will be tasked to take up five key education issues: Learning Loss, Funding, Accountability, Literacy, and Teacher Pay. Details on each proposal will be released by the Department of Education in the near future, in addition to the department’s plans to implement a new literacy program, “Reading 360.” The program will leverage one-time federal relief funding to support a phonics-based approach to literacy and will ensure Tennessee districts, teachers, and families are equipped with tools and resources to help students read on grade level by third grade.

Ain’t Dunn yet: Recently retired lawmaker named education adviser

House Speaker Pro Tem Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) presents school voucher legislation on May 1, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Just days after officially ending his time as a state lawmaker, former Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) has been hired as a senior adviser to state Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn.

Dunn, who was first elected to the House in 1994, was the longtime sponsor of efforts to pass school voucher legislation, which finally succeeded in 2019 only to be tied up in court over constitutional questions of having the program apply only to the state’s two largest counties without the backing of voters of local legislative bodies. The new job pays $98,000 per year.

Here’s an excerpt of what The Tennessee Journal wrote on the occasion of Dunn’s retirement announcement in September 2019:

An arborist by profession, the devout Catholic and father of five has referred to himself as a “bleeding heart conservative.” While he was unafraid to champion controversial causes and challenge Democratic leaders (on his first day in office in 1995, he was the only Republican to vote against the re-election of Rep. Jimmy Naifeh as speaker), Dunn became known for his easygoing style and sense of humor. For example, when a House subcommittee was on the verge of killing his proposal to convert pre-kindergarten to a summer program in 2006, Dunn suggested the panel instead study the idea over the summer. It didn’t work, but it got a good laugh. […]

Not all of Dunn’s efforts were futile. His multi-year effort to enact a constitutional ban on gay marriage overwhelmingly passed both chambers of the General Assembly while Democrats were in charge. The measure received more than 80% of the vote in the 2006 election. Dunn was also a major supporter of a constitutional amendment approved in 2014 to restore state lawmakers’ power to restrict access to abortions.

“You can go out dead, defeated, or on your own terms. I don’t like the first two choices, so the third one’s rather appealing.”

—Dunn to WKRN-TV about his plans to retire from the House.

The Republican takeover of the General Assembly cleared the path for several controversial measures sponsored by Dunn, including 2011 bills to do away with collective bargaining rights for teachers and dial back their tenure protections. He passed a 2012 bill to protect teachers who allow students to criticize evolution and climate change. Then-Gov. Bill Haslam let the so-called “monkey bill” become law without his signature.

Dunn supported Haslam’s Improve Act to boost road funding, which included a 6-cent gas tax hike but also featured several tax cuts in other areas. Dunn was one of two Republicans to vote against a 2016 conference committee deal to eliminate the state’s Hall income tax on stock and bond earnings by 2022 on the basis that it didn’t create a replacement tax or cut other programs. […]

Dunn flirted with a bid to succeed Casada as speaker on a platform of returning a “level of boredom” to the chamber, but ultimately bowed out of the race. In announcing his retirement plans, Dunn said he wanted to leave on a “high point” of passing the voucher bill and another law to trigger a ban on abortions in Tennessee should Roe v. Wade be overturned.

More than 2,000 K-12 students test positive for COVID, but school-specific info to remain secret

More than 2,000 school-age children have tested positive for COVID-19 over the past two weeks, but state officials say they won’t release details of where the infections are occurring.

As of Tuesday, 2,099 students between ages 5 and 18 had tested positive, with Davidson County leading the way with 228 cases, followed by 209 in Hamilton County, 202 in Shelby County, 118 in Rutherford County, and 106 in Knox County.

Gov. Bill Lee’s Adminstration says federal privacy laws prevent the release of details about how many children have been infected in specific schools.

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference on Tennessee’s coronavirus response in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

“It’s a balance,” Lee said. “It’s really important that people in a school district can’t figure out which children individually have a case.”

Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn said there are schools around the state that have fewer than 200 students, where disclosing an outbreak would make it easy to identify who had become sick. It’s unclear how that reasoning would apply to larger schools.

According to WPLN-FM, it’s the fourth time the Lee administration has flip-flopped on making information about the pandemic public. In March, officials at first refused to share county-specific data about infections and deaths. That decision was later reversed. The same went for keeping details of infections at nursing homes secret, which was later dropped amid pushback from the public and the media.

Lee had initially said the school infection information would be kept from the public, only to reverse himself later before once again saying the details will be confidential.

Haslam backing Tennessee Tutoring Corps to tackle enhanced ‘summer slide’

Gov. Bill Haslam speaks at a press conference at the state Capitol in Nashville on March 1, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Former Gov. Bill Haslam is backing an effort to recruit college students to tutor children in kindergarten through sixth grade whose education has been interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Here’s the full release:

Knoxville, Tenn. – The Bill and Crissy Haslam Foundation, in partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs in Tennessee and other youth-serving organizations across the state, today launched a new statewide Tennessee Tutoring Corps (TTC) to provide summer learning opportunities for rising K-6th grade students whose education has been interrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 
 
“The ‘summer slide’ is a very real problem each year, and, with students being out of school for so long because of the coronavirus, this year could be more of a summer avalanche,” Bill Haslam said.  “We know that younger students and low-income students are especially vulnerable to summer learning loss, and we want to help address the problem.”
 
The Tennessee Tutoring Corps, which will run from June to August, aims to recruit at least 1,000 qualified college students to serve as tutors to students entering K-6 grade this fall. Eighteen Boys & Girls Clubs organizations representing nearly 90 clubs across the state will join with locally-run, youth-serving nonprofits in several counties to help facilitate the program.  

Recent research predicts the pandemic will significantly worsen the summer slide, with learning loss affecting students nationwide. Estimates suggest students could return in the fall retaining only 70 percent of typical learning gains in reading and less than 50 percent of usual learning gains in math. In some grades, students could be nearly a full year behind. 
 
Additionally, news reports suggest that as many as 30 percent of college students have lost summer internship opportunities due to COVID-related economic distress. Recognizing that many college students are experiencing financial strain or loss of employment opportunities due to the pandemic, tutors will be compensated with a stipend of up to $1,000 for their work through the duration of the summer program. 
 
“In creating this program, we hope to attract college students who care about their communities, about making a difference during this difficult time, and about helping younger students learn and grow,” Crissy Haslam said. “Many of these college students thought they would be doing something else this summer and have suddenly found themselves available.  Both the college students and younger students will be in extraordinary circumstances this year.”  
 
Qualified tutors must be current college students and must pass a background check. Preference will be given to those who have a 3.0 GPA or higher, have at least completed their freshman year, and are Tennessee residents. Interested candidates can learn more and submit an application on the Tennessee Tutoring Corps website at www.tntutoringcorps.org. The deadline for applications is 11:59am EST on Friday, May 29.
 
TTC is a pilot project that will be evaluated for effectiveness and feasibility in considering future opportunities. More information is available at www.tntutoringcorps.org.

Here’s a preview of Gov. Bill Lee’s State of the State address

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee gives his second State of the State address on Monday evening. Here are some early excerpts of the speech on the topics of the economy, education, and criminal justice reform:

Economy:

“In 2019, we were for the first time named the #1 best fiscally managed state in the country. We’ve been named as the best business climate in the country. We’re #1 in the U.S. for advanced industry job growth and the best state for small business growth. In the past year, this state has garnered 108 project commitments to create 16,500 jobs and $3.6 billion of capital investment in Tennessee. And while we still have more work to do on rural economic development, I’m also proud that more than half of these projects have been announced in rural counties.”

Education:

“Make no mistake: we will do whatever it takes to make Tennessee the best state in America to be a student, and that means making Tennessee the best state in America to be a teacher. That means better pay, as we’ve said, but it also means better training and professional support, so that our teachers can perform at the top of their trade.”

“Literacy is the foundation for a student’s educational journey. And if we can’t get early childhood literacy back on track, our other investments and work in education will always be limited.”

“No teacher I know does it only for the money, but you and I know a worker is worthy of their pay. Teaching is a calling. We know it is passion that brings teachers to the classroom, but we also know our teachers deserve to be paid more for the important work they do.”

“To me, education isn’t just about a test score. Assessments are valuable tools, but if the adults in education are doing their job correctly, they won’t just see academic statistics improve, they’ll see the most important stat of all improve: That our students are prepared to become productive members of society, whether that’s entering the workforce, attending college, or earning a high-quality industry credential.”

Criminal Justice Reform:

“We’re making these investments because, as our state’s elected leaders, we must remain aware of serving every part and every person of our state. That’s why I’ve made criminal justice reform such a large priority, because every person in Tennessee wants and deserves to live in a safe neighborhood. When properly implemented, criminal justice reforms save taxpayer dollars, shrink the size of government, properly punish wrongdoers, and make our communities safer.”

Lee signs order moving disability services for young children out of Education Department

Gov. Bill Lee welcomes delegates to a summit on economically distressed counties in Linden on Aug. 13, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee has signed an executive order to move development services for young children with disabilities out of the state Education Department. They will now be housed within the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

Here’s the release from the Lee administration:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee issued an executive order transferring the Tennessee Early Intervention System (TEIS) from the Tennessee Department of Education to the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities to better align services for children with disabilities.

TEIS is a voluntary educational program for infants and toddlers with disabilities that supports families through child development resources. The program encourages optimal development through community and family activities.

“This program is vital to the growth and development of children with disabilities,” said Gov. Lee. “We look forward to better serving TEIS families and ensuring Tennessee is a place where people of all abilities thrive.”

Since taking office in January, this is the 10th executive order signed by Gov. Lee.

Lee announces $25M in vocational education grants

Gov. Bill Lee’s administration is announcing $25 million in grants under his vocational education initiative, a major part of the Republican’s campaign platform last year

Here’s the release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced projects receiving funding through the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) program which prioritizes learning opportunities in rural counties and enhances career and technical education statewide.

“We are proud to work with the General Assembly to pass the GIVE initiative and expand career and technical education for Tennessee students,” said Lee. “These funds directly support our workforce development efforts in distressed and at-risk counties and are a key component of our strategy to prioritize rural Tennessee.”

Earlier this year, the General Assembly approved $25 million in the governor’s budget to incentivize collaboration at the local level among stakeholders such as higher education institutions, K-12 and economic development partners.

The award process began in June when the Tennessee Higher Education Commission issued a competitive Request for Proposals (RFP). Each proposal was required to show local data that clearly identified both workforce needs and a sustainable plan utilizing equipment, work-based learning experiences, or recognized industry certifications to increase the state’s competitiveness and postsecondary attainment goals.

The program prioritized economically distressed and at-risk counties in the RFP process. The 28 funded projects will serve all economically distressed counties and 18 of the 24 at-risk counties.

The Appalachian Regional Commission index of economic status categorizes counties as at-risk or distressed based upon their three-year average unemployment rate, per capita market income, and poverty rates. Distressed counties rank among the 10% most economically distressed in the nation while at-risk counties rank between the bottom 10% and 25% of the nation’s counties.

The full list of GIVE projects and recipients:

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