State Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Columbia, said he is supporting a long list of bills this legislative session that would bring changes to the public education system.
One of them has been flagged by activists for potentially impeding on the rights of transgender athletes.
As introduced, HB 1689 would prohibit a student from participating in a single-sex interscholastic sport or athletic event provided by the student’s public school unless the student verifies with the public school the student’s sex at birth.
Cepicky said that female athletes are at risk of losing out on scholarship opportunities to transgender male-born competitors who chose to participate with girls.
“The bill is in the process for being rewritten,” Cepicky told The Daily Herald. “We are trying to write something that protects athletes.”
The former professional baseball player and college football punter said the way the state operates infringes on Title IX, a federal civil rights law within the Education Amendments of 1972. It protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.
HB 1689 appears to be the only bill on Cepicky’s list that has been flagged by social activists who have placed the bill law on their “Slate of Hate,” a list of proposed bills that would lead to discrimination against members of the LGBTQ Plus community.
“It is clear that anti-equality lawmakers are intent on continuing the push to advance legislation that would negatively impact the lives of LGBTQ Tennesseans. Moreover, targeting transgender and non-binary youth — the most vulnerable and marginalized community,” said Hope Jackson, a regional field advisor for the the Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBTQ rights organization, in a recent statement published by the organization.
International businesses, including Amazon, Nike and American Airlines, along with 139 other businesses recently signed a letter opposing the proposed bill and others for infringing on the rights of LGBTQ communities.
“This bill is extremely complicated, so we have a team of lawyers working to protect Title IX,” Cepicky said. “We understand the issues, and want to be able to protect the athletes.”
Both HB 1689 and its Senate counterpart SB 1736, introduced by Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, were both filed for introduction shortly before deadline last month. The House bill has been assigned to the K-12 Subcommittee and the Senate equivalent passed on second consideration and is bring refereed to the Senate Education Committee.
Other proposed bills in education focus on giving teachers what they need to succeed, especially for those working with students in kindergarten and third grade, Cepicky said.
“Over the last three months before the session started, I met with all the elementary school teachers in Maury County,” Cepicky said. “I talked to them about the problems in education and how most of them start back in grades kindergarten through three.”
He said students have an average literacy rate of 37% which lowers to 28% in 8th grade.
“It’s not getting any better,” Cepicky said. “Students are not getting caught up. We need to get their literacy rates up.”
Cepicky says local teachers told him to take away the need for data collection, and give them more time to stand in front of their students and teach.
“That is where these bills are coming from,” Cepicky said. “We are already asking our teachers to do too much. It is the process that we have in place. We do too much data collection right now, and we spend so much on incarceration. We want to give the most autonomy and freedom to educators, so that they can do the the best they can. Let’s help those students be successful so they want to be productive citizens. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. I hope to reach a point where we see 70% to 90% of our elementary school students on grade level at the end of elementary school.”
Bolstering Tennessee Promise
For post-secondary education, Cepicky supports HB 1592. As introduced, the bill would establish a four-year pilot program to award completion grants to Tennessee Promise scholarship students who have an immediate financial need, or who are experiencing a financial hardship that may prevent the student from completing a postsecondary degree or credential.
“We want to get our Tennessee Promise students across the finish line,” Cepicky said.
The local representative says currently less than half of at-risk Tennessee Promise students complete their degrees. If the pilot program helps an additional 2,000 students complete their degrees, he says the program’s success rate would increasing to more than 50%.
The bill aims to provide additional support to organizations that would bring added guidance and coaching to low-income students considered to be in a high risk of dropping out through the state’s last-dollar Tennessee Promise scholarship. The statewide scholarship program provides two years of college tuition at no cost to participating students.
If passed by the state legislator, the pilot program will be carried out by the Tennessee Promise support initiatives like TN Achieves, which would provide opportunities for weekly coaching sessions with students, many of whom do not qualify for the HOPE scholarship.
With a cost of $250,000, but an estimated $95 million return over the course of a lifetime, Cepicky says the program provides an excellent return on investment.
“We want our students to cross the finish line,” Cepicky said.
Other bills that Cepicky supports
The following is a list of the remaining bills sponsored by the local representative and related to education. The proposed pieces of legislation have been placed on various committees and subcommittees related to education.
◆ HB 1554: As introduced, the bill allows local education agencies to choose to administer TCAP tests to its students in a paper format beginning with the 2020-2021 school year if the commissioner authorizes TCAP tests to be administered in a computerized format. It requires the department to provide TCAP test materials in a paper format to the agencies’ choosing to administer TCAP tests in a paper format.
◆ HB 1692: As introduced, the bill requires a student in kindergarten through third-grade to attend summer school if the student’s teacher determines that the student is not academically prepared to advance to the next grade level and that grade retention may benefit the student.
◆ HB 1691: As introduced, this bill changes August 15 to June 1 as the date on which a child must be 5 years of age to enroll in kindergarten. It also changes Sept. 30 to July 31 as the date on which a child can be determined by the director of schools to be sufficiently mature to enroll in kindergarten.
◆ HB 1833: As introduced, the bill limits the number of Tennessee comprehensive assessment program (TCAP) tests administered to students in grades 3 through 12.
◆ HB 1686: The bill specifies that, beginning with the 2021-2022 school year, in order to teach kindergarten through grade three, a teacher must have received an evaluation demonstrating an overall performance effectiveness level of “above expectations” or “significantly above expectations” on the most recent teacher evaluation conducted pursuant to § 49-1-302(d) of state regulations. It also provides exceptions in certain circumstances.
◆ HB1688: As introduced, the bill requires the state board of education to abolish all academic standards for science and social studies for students in kindergarten through grade two. It allows the subjects of science and social studies to be incorporated into the curriculum aligned with the academic standards for English language arts for students in kindergarten through grade two.
◆ HB 2002: As introduced, the bill outlines workload considerations for the state board of education when establishing the maximum class size and caseload standards for instructional personnel and teachers having primary responsibility for a student’s individualized education program (IEP) or a classroom that includes students with disabilities or students eligible for special education services. It establishes workload calculations for purposes of an LEA’s request for a waiver from mandatory maximum class sizes, average class sizes, or caseload standards.
◆ HB 2134: As introduced, the bill enacts the “Teacher’s Discipline Act,” which establishes a disciplinary process for students who have been removed from the classroom by the teacher.
◆ HB 2335: As introduced, the bill requires the department to survey all LEAs, public charter schools and state special schools to determine whether there are enough licensed speech-language pathologists to serve the needs of public school students with speech disorders. It requires the department to survey and collect information on speech pathologists’ caseloads and workloads; requires the department to report its findings and recommendations to the education committees of the Senate and House of Representatives by Jan. 15, 2021.
◆ HB 1392: As enacted, the bill includes schools that meet the standards of accreditation or membership of the Association of Classical and Christian Schools to schools considered “church-related” schools and revises related provisions.
◆ HB 1391: As introduced, this bill requires that only 5% of the evaluation criteria used to evaluate all teachers and principals be comprised of student achievement data based on student growth generated by assessments administered to students enrolled in an English as a second language (ESL) program with limited English proficiency.
◆ HB 0846: As introduced, the bill changes, from 10 days to 10 business days, the period within which a director of schools is required to notify the chief of the appropriate law enforcement agency that the director has authorized a person to carry or possess a firearm on school property.
◆ HB 0561: As introduced, the bill requires the state board of education to provide professional development credit to a teacher who successfully completes a foreign language course that will assist the teacher in educating students for whom English is a second language. It would allow a local board of education to grant teachers one day of in-service credit for successfully completing an approved foreign language course.
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