(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) – Three education bills sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) and passed by the General Assembly are among 169 new laws which will become effective in Tennessee on Wednesday. The education bills include a measure which expands the eligibility for enrollment in charter schools authorized by an Achievement School District (ASD), a new law protecting 11th grade students who are in foster care from having to meet local graduation requirements beyond what is mandated by the state; and a statute allowing students who make at least 15 on the HiSET test to be eligible for the HOPE scholarship.
The new HOPE scholarship law also revises the GED score required for eligibility to conform to the scale used for the new version of the test, setting a score of 170 to qualify.
“The HOPE scholarship has been a very important tool in helping students receive post-secondary degrees,” said Senator Gresham. “This new law helps to ensure that students who take the HiSet and GED tests are eligible utilizing updated criteria.”
The charter school bill applies to schools that obtain an achievement growth score of “at expectations” or higher. Under the new law, first priority for enrollment will be given to students enrolled in or zoned to attend the ASD school. After the initial enrollment period, however, ASD charter schools with a capacity to serve additional students will be allowed to enroll students who meet one or more of the following criteria as long as they do not comprise more than 25 percent of the school’s total student enrollment:
• The student is a child of a teacher or staff member or sponsor or member of the governing body;
• The student has been assigned to or was previously enrolled in a school identified as a priority school as defined by the state’s accountability system;
• During the previous school year, the student failed to test proficient in the subjects of reading and language arts or math in grades 3-8 on the TCAP if classrooms are not at capacity; or
• The student is eligible for free or reduced price lunch.
The third education bill requires a Local Education Agency (LEA) from requiring any student in the custody of the Department of Children’s Services and who is in the eleventh grade or higher to meet more than the minimum graduation requirements set out by the State Board of Education.
“Students in foster care are often transferred from one school to the next and may not have time to meet additional graduation standards required by school boards when moved at that grade level,” added Gresham. “This new law will help these students receive their high school degree and move on to post-secondary education or the workplace.”
Gresham also co-sponsored an education bill set to take effect on Wednesday that prohibits local education agencies from discouraging or disciplining teachers for reporting inaccuracies, errors or potentially inflammatory information in textbooks or instructional materials to a supervisor, parent or guardian. The new law prohibits teachers from being asked to waive their rights to make such reports as a condition of employment.
On other issues set to take effect on July 1, Gresham co-sponsored a bill calling for informed consent and a 48-hour waiting period for women considering abortion; a measure to give law enforcement and other officials more training to identify, investigate and prosecute cases of human trafficking; and a statute to establish and maintain Tennessee’s Veterans Treatment Court programs.
“These Veterans Treatment Courts have been very successful,” said Senator Gresham, who is a retired Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. “Services provided include group therapy, job coaching, mentoring by fellow veterans, and specialized treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the substance abuse frequently used by sufferers to self-medicate. The Veterans Courts are operated through the Tennessee Judicial System as a trial court with special emphasis on access to therapy and support services in partnership with mental health. I am very pleased that all of these laws are set for enactment.”