pandemic

28,000 school-age children test positive for COVID-19 in two weeks

More than 28,000 school-age children in Tennessee have tested positive for COVID-19 over the last two weeks, the Commercial Appeal reports.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Education plans to relaunch its pandemic dashboard after Labor Day.

Chalkbeat has reported the data included in the dashboard was incomplete because of limited reporting by school districts and privacy concerns. Here’s what the publication said about the portal in November:

A Chalkbeat analysis of COVID-19 data in the state’s schools dashboard shows between 880 and 3,540 student coronavirus cases weren’t included in the district level totals from Oct. 19 to Nov. 15. Similarly, at least 685 and as many as 2,740 teacher cases also were excluded on the district level.

The wide range in the number of excluded cases in districts is caused because of how Tennessee shares data when there are fewer than five cases in a school. In Chalkbeat’s analysis, the lowest case estimates (listed above) presume there is one case in a school while the highest calculations presume there are four cases in the school.

The state “suppresses,” or excludes, data when there are fewer than five cases at a school. Data is shielded in small data counts because releasing that information could inadvertently lead to students or teachers being identified.

So if a school reports two COVID cases, for example, the state’s dashboard displays it simply as less than five cases for that school, but those same cases are excluded from the district totals in the dashboard. That means your school might report fewer than five cases, but the district level numbers would show zero.

Lee: Testing scores illustrate learning loss during pandemic

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference in Nashville on March 22, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Standardized scores at Tennessee schools were down in the 2020-2021 academic year due to school distractions during the pandemic, Gov. Bill Lee announced Monday.

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

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn announced the Spring 2021 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) state-level results. This is the first set of state-level data related to student academic achievement available since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These results show that COVID-19 has disrupted learning in every school district in Tennessee,” said Gov. Lee. “We’re grateful for the dedication of our educators and districts who worked to mitigate this loss over the past year, and we’re committed to implementing long-term strategies and investments to get our students back on track.”

Tennessee schools demonstrated their collective commitment to knowing where students are performing through a 95% student participation rate on the TCAP. Disruption to education as a result of the pandemic has led to declines in student academic proficiency in Tennessee across all subjects and grades.

“Since last school year, districts, schools, and educators have worked tirelessly to adapt to this new reality, met and exceeded ambitious goals to ensure our students tested, and are ready to start the new school year strong. Now is the time for our state to come together to support our students. We must operate with urgency and conviction that, together, we will do what is necessary to provide all students with an excellent education,” said Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn.

Key data points from the state-level 2021 Spring TCAP results include:

  • Tennessee data shows decreases in students scoring Mastered and On Track. 
  • Tennessee data shows increases in students scoring Below.
  • While this year’s results track with state projections, Tennessee prevented the severe proficiency drops that some states have experienced due to the pandemic.
  • Data show the most negative impacts for economically disadvantaged students, urban/suburban students, English learners, and students of color.
  • Districts that provided opportunities for in-person instruction in 2020-21 saw less decline in student proficiency.

In January 2021, Gov. Lee and the General Assembly convened a special legislative session on education, which addressed urgent issues facing Tennessee students and schools as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, the special legislative session passed legislation on accountability, learning loss, literacy, and teacher pay. The Tennessee Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act established summer learning loss bridge camps for elementary students to help them recover learning loss and accelerate their achievement.

Gov. Lee, the General Assembly, and the Department of Education are committed to continuing to make strategic investments to mitigate learning loss and support student academic achievement.

More information on TCAP results can be found here.

Gov. Lee announces withdrawal from feds’ pandemic unemployment programs

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters outside the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee announced Tuesday that Tennessee will withdraw from the federal government’s enhanced unemployment benefit program during the pandemic, citing the more than 250,000 unfilled positions in the state.

Democrats are panning the decision as unfair to people who have lost their jobs.

“More than 200,000 Tennesseans have been laid off since Jan. 1 and the Lee administration just made the irresponsible decision to punish their families in a time of need,” said Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Raumesh Akbari. “That’s not leadership, it’s legislative violence. This callous decision highlights just how out of touch this administration is with the lives of everyday Tennesseans.”

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

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced the end of all federally funded pandemic unemployment compensation programs in Tennessee, effective July 3.

“We will no longer participate in federal pandemic unemployment programs because Tennesseans have access to more than 250,000 jobs in our state,” said Gov. Lee. “Families, businesses and our economy thrive when we focus on meaningful employment and move on from short-term, federal fixes.”

Gov. Lee’s letter to the U.S. Department of Labor can be viewed here.

Federal pandemic unemployment programs set to end on July 3 include the following:

·         Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), which provides for an additional $300 weekly payment to recipients of unemployment compensation

·         Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which provides benefits for those who would not usually qualify, such as the self-employed, gig workers and part-time workers

·         Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), which provides for an extension of benefits once regular benefits have been exhausted

·         Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation (MEUC), which provides an additional $100 benefit to certain people with mixed earnings

Unemployment claimants in Tennessee have been required to complete three weekly job searches in order to remain eligible for benefits since Oct. 4, 2020.

Any weeks filed before July 3 that are eligible under federal program requirements will continue to be processed.

The Tennessee Workforce Development System stands ready to help Tennesseans return to the workforce. Career specialists are available to help job seekers match with new employment opportunities at more than 80 American Job Centers across the state. They can work to identify possible training programs that can help an individual change their career pathway or enter an apprenticeship program so they can earn a competitive wage, while they learn a new trade.

The Tennessee Virtual American Job Center, www.TNVirtualAJC.com, allows Tennesseans to research different programs that can help remove barriers to employment so they can more easily reenter Tennessee’s workforce.

As federal pandemic unemployment compensation ends in Tennessee, the state encourages claimants to search for work at www.Jobs4TN.gov, which currently has over 250,000 active job postings of all skill levels.