Reevaluating reading proficiency goals for students, improving vocational education and expanding insurance coverage for diagnostic tests for cancer are among the legislative priorities of state legislators representing Washington County.
State Reps. Rebecca Alexander, R-Jonesborough, and Tim Hicks, R-Gray, both say continuing to address problems of student learning losses stemming from COVID pandemic and reexamining requirements that students meet third-grade level reading proficiency requirements will be among the top education issues in Nashville this year.
Alexander said she believes local school boards should be given more control in reading proficiency issues.
“A local teacher knows more about a child than one test on one specific day,” Alexander said. “Holding back a child does more harm than good.”
Hicks said as a member of the state House Education Committee, he will be pushing for changes in the reading proficiency requirement.
“If the law isn’t changed, half of the third graders in this state will fail that test,” Hicks said. “That will put these students at a disadvantage. It’s not fair to students who have made progress during the year to fail based on the score from one test given on one day.”
Meeting Infrastructure Needs
Washington County lawmakers said they will also be tackling growth issues when the 113th session of the Tennessee General Assembly begins on Tuesday.
While Alexander said she doesn’t expect to carry as many bills as she sponsored in her first year in the General Assembly, she does expect to push for passage of legislation that will allow utility districts in Tennessee to go outside their established footprints to provide broadband internet services.
“We have to solve the problem of reliable internet in rural areas,” Alexander said.
Alexander said she will also continue to push legislation to expand insurance coverage for specific diagnostic tests for breast cancer.
“We need full parity for women with dense breast tissue,” Alexander said. “We need that clarified because diagnostic imaging is key to saving lives.”
Hicks said he would like to see his colleagues “begin a conversation” on needed changes to the state’s 1994 urban boundaries law. He said growth and transportation will also be key issues this year, with Gov. Bill Lee introducing his Transportation Modernization Act of 2023.
“We have good roads in Tennessee, but with the growth we are seeing in this state, we still have work to do to make sure we don’t fall behind the curve,” Hicks said.
Hicks said he and his colleagues are open to discussion on the merits of toll roads and so-called “choice lanes,” which are additional lanes funded in partnership with the private sector on urban interstates in Tennessee.
In the area of workforce development, Hicks said he plans to continue his pursuit of legislation to change requirements for teaching high school vocational and CTE classes.
He said current state law requires such vocational educators to hold college-earned certification to teach courses, such as plumbing, electrical and masonry to high school students. Hicks believes this requirement is both time-consuming and costly and discourages those with valuable experience in these vocations from teaching at the high school level.
“I’d like to see us offer a program that allows someone who wants to get into teaching these vocations partner with a certified teacher for a time to gain the classroom experience they need,” Hicks said.
Addressing abortion and child care
State Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, believes state lawmakers “need to make sure pursuant to our new abortion restrictions, that medical procedures may be performed, as current law states, if ‘necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant woman or to prevent serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman.’”
Crowe said he will be meeting with medical professionals and other stakeholders to make sure Tennessee law is interpreted properly and protective of the life and health of the mother.
“I also plan to place a major focus on giving young mothers the resources and assistance they need to keep their babies if they so choose,” Crowe said. “We need to help them to become self-sufficient to raise their babies in a healthy environment, while also working to improve our adoption and foster care programs.”
As chairman of the state Senate’s Health and Welfare Committee, Crowe said he plans to make child care for working parents a major focus in this legislative session.
“The availability of quality child care is a priority,” Crowe said. “One approach will include possibly developing legislation that would create a tax credit for companies that provide some form of child care benefits for employees and/or might provide facilities/space to support child care.”
Crowe also believe he and his colleagues “will be working toward solutions to day care staffing shortages and the difficulties we are seeing in starting up and running quality day care businesses.”