Iris Rudder headshot

It is unthinkable that one year after this pandemic began that we are grieving the loss of 500,000 Americans.

This public health crisis has touched us all in different ways but there’s no doubt it has taken a tremendous toll on Tennessee’s one million public-school students.

While children are in the lowest risk-group for developing serious illness from Covid-19, they are no doubt the biggest victims of this public health crisis.

Each day, our schools provide a happy, stable environment with opportunities for growth and success.

That world was severely disrupted one year ago with the unexpected closing of schools across our state.

Our students have suffered devastating academic consequences from repeated school closures and transitioning back-and-forth from in-person to virtual learning.

Learning can happen anywhere, but there’s no substitute for face-to-face interactions with teachers and peers in a classroom.

Now, in the wake of a massive $1.9 trillion federal spending package known as the American Rescue Plan Act, Tennessee schools will receive an additional $2.5 billion.

This money, awarded through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund will go directly to local schools to address learning loss and meet other student needs created by the pandemic.

This is in addition to the $1.2 billion our schools already received during President Donald Trump’s administration.

Here’s how this money breaks down for us in the 39th District: Franklin County Schools have already received $5.3 million and will receive another $9.8 million; Marion County Schools received $4.5 million and will get an additional $8 million; and Moore County Schools received $548,600 and now they will receive an additional $965,000.

There’s no question, the pandemic has amplified many challenges for our schools that have such limited resources.

These one-time funds provide an unprecedented opportunity for our schools and our community.

But we must us it wisely and keep our promise to taxpayers to be fiscally responsible at all levels of government.

This money must be used to close learning gaps caused by the pandemic, for tutoring and for additional resources that will help get our students back on track and on the path to excellence.

My Republican colleagues and I in the Tennessee General Assembly have already taken several steps at the state level to reverse learning loss, strengthen foundational skills and ensure the academic success of our students.

During a special session focused on education in January, we extended hold-harmless provisions from the 2019-20 academic year to 2020-21 so that students, teachers, schools and districts do not face negative consequences associated with student assessments.

Students will still take end-of-year assessments like they normally do. This data will be used to determine where our students are and what remediation may be needed.

We know that kindergarten through third grade is a critical time for growing lifelong learners through foundational reading skills.

We are committed to training and support for educators to teach foundational phonics-based reading instruction.

For this, the General Assembly has established a universal screening method that parents and teachers can use to identify when students need help sooner.

We created the Tennessee Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act, which will provide $81 million through state, lottery and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families dollars for interventions and support for struggling students in after-school and summer tutoring.

This program will prioritize those students who score below proficient in reading and math. This measure strengthens our state’s third-grade reading retention policies to ensure we are not promoting students who are not prepared.

Finally, we support and value great teachers.

It takes passion, commitment and hard work to walk into a classroom every day and give your best.

In addition to enhanced training and resources, Republicans in the General Assembly provided $43 million to local school districts to increase teacher pay through the remainder of the school year, and we’re working to secure a 4 percent pay increase for 2021-22.

Difficult times of crisis always bring about opportunity for change and improvement. We will need to move mountains now, but we can do it if we keep students at the center of our decisions.

I am deeply grateful for the trust you have placed in me to represent you in the 39th District.

Please continue to keep our students and teachers in your prayers.

Working together, we will continue building stronger schools and communities for the next generation of Tennesseans.

Iris Rudder lives in Winchester and represents Tennessee House District 39, which includes Moore and parts of Franklin and Mario counties.

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