TREND Spring 2020 | Page 22

we will defeat COVID-19 (aka coronavirus). We take the issue of COVID-19 very seriously, and we are monitoring the development daily. We will undoubtedly have difficult days ahead. The Tennessee General Assembly passed a scaled-down version of the state budget. It is important to highlight for our educators that the proposed budget still contains a 2% raise in the BEP instructional component for our teachers. Should the crisis subside, we are confident that this administration will revisit and fulfill their commitment to teacher salaries. In the meantime, everyone across the state is tightening their belt. Teacher salaries are one of the only increases for wages that were not cut in the new, scaled- down budget, and we thank Governor Lee for continuing to prioritize our educators despite the urgent need to reallocate significant resources to prepare our state for the effects of COVID-19. Finally, we know the legislature has returned to their home districts. Once they return to Nashville and resume the legislative session, predicted to be by June, we are hopeful that we will have weathered the worst of this outbreak, and that the Governor’s office and legislature will revisit budget investments for public education. PENDING FEDERAL LEGISLATION Public school enrollment is expected to be slightly higher than the 50.7 million students in 2019, and it is the highest enrollment ever reported for public schools. Tennessee has about 980,000 students. Nationally, including post-secondary and other programs, more than 76 million students are enrolled in U.S. schools. This includes about 7 million children, which consists of more than 2 million with specific learning disabilities. Many of the Special Education students rely on IDEA and Section 504 to receive necessary special education support and services. In Senate 3548, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) proposed waivers will give states and school districts the necessary time to implement proper protocols given the COVID-19 pandemic to better serve all our students, including the guarantee of equity for special education students and ESL students. It is important that this remains included in the legislation. Many public schools are not equipped to provide equity for all students at this time, such as special education students or those who speak English as a second language. Without a waiver, unless a district provides services exactly as written in the IEP in terms of frequency, duration, and location, they are likely in violation. Districts are already being inundated with due process requests, OCR complaints, and even federal lawsuits. Without a waiver, costly litigation could most certainly occur against states and districts who operate in good faith to provide services. States and districts cannot afford unnecessary legal action during a crisis. The CARES Act directs Secretary DeVos to report back to Congress within 30 days on the waivers needed. We expect and support giving the Secretary of Education some waiver authority, and we would hope it is very brief. We would oppose any permanent extension. The Tennessee Department of Health has launched a Tennessee Coronavirus Public Information Line in partnership with the Tennessee Poison Center. The hotline number is 877-857-2945 and will be available from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. CT daily. Additional resources for the education community regarding COVID-19 can be found at: • • • safety/update-on-coronavirus.html Collaboration and open communication between administrators, educators, school staff, parents, and students will be the best continued on page 35