Mapping Our Future Together

COVID-19 has certainly interrupted teaching and learning, particularly for students of color and those from low-income backgrounds.1 Overall, the pandemic has exacerbated and illuminated longstanding inequities within our schools and institutions to a broader audience.2 Federal stimulus dollars are essential on the path to recovery.

In March 2020, the United States Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which includes the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund.3 “Across three federal relief packages passed by the United States Congress between March 2020 and March 2021, Tennessee has received over $4.5 billion in federal relief funding to use between spring 2020 and fall 2024.4 For context, Tennessee’s ESSER funding allocation is nine times larger than our historic $500 million Race to the Top (RTT) grant in 2010.5 Money matters, but it’s not just about how much, but also how well we allocate funds toward data and research-driven investments that sustain long term and to students and families who would most benefit from its support. At least 90% of ESSER funding must be distributed directly to school districts, but otherwise, the funds are highly flexible.6 This requirement supports local communities to tailor investments to their students’ needs and local context. Advocates can support districts to invest in evidence-based and comprehensive interventions, including the recommendations within this report, to maximize ESSER’s impact.

Tennessee has a critical opportunity to reassess and redesign systems and policies that work for all students. This report, TN25: Mapping our Future Together, aims to equip advocates with research, data, and bright spots to create their vision for education in 2025.

Policy Recommendations

  • Promote high-quality, standards-aligned instructional materials to support every student
  • Increase access to and success in advanced coursework by equitably identifying, enrolling, and supporting students in advanced courses and programs
  • Increase access, affordability, and success in higher education for students
  • Increase consistent access to high-quality, affordable, and universal preschool education

Venita Doggett

Watch Venita Doggett, Director of Advocacy at the Memphis Education Fund, share her vision for education in Tennessee by the year 2025.

  • Increase the level of funding through the state funding formula
  • Adopt a simplified, student-weighted funding formula that is guided by students’ different levels of need with weights robust enough to support student needs
  • Ensure fairness by providing funding to districts with low property wealth to make up the difference between what the district needs and can contribute based on fiscal capacity 2022
  • Ensure that dollars are used well to improve student learning outcomes while providing flexibility to allow districts to respond to their local needs and context
  • Report school-level and district-level spending data in clear and accessible ways, including comparative spending data and contextual information

Betsy Jimenez Hurst

Watch Betsy Jimenez Hurst, Executive Director at Hola Lakeway, share her vision for education in Tennessee by the year 2025.

  • Increase students’ access to educators who are fully prepared and supported throughout their career through increased professional development and other means
  • Support and incentivize educator preparation programs to recruit and prepare teachers of color • Target resources to intentionally recruit, hire, and retain a diverse educator workforce
  • Report educator diversity data in accessible and actionable ways

Seth Thorpe

Watch Seth Thorpe, a student at Pearl Cohn High School in Metro Nashville Public Schools, share his vision for education in Tennessee by the year 2025.

  • Provide funding for counselors, social workers, and other health professionals
  • Increase opportunities for student voice and leadership in decision-making Prohibit the use of suspensions and expulsions for minor offenses and ban the use of corporal punishment
  • Invest in and build structures for integrated student supports and wraparound services
  • Provide professional development and materials for adults on using trauma-responsive and restorative practices, developing and cultivating asset-based and anti-racist mindsets, and developing the skills to integrate social-emotional supports into academics

Ruby Aguilar

Watch Ruby Aguilar, a teacher at Metro Nashville Public Schools, share her vision for education in Tennessee by the year 2025.

  • Evaluate ESSER Plans to ensure that districts use evidence-based practices, allocate resources based on student need, and have a clear monitoring plan to ensure that dollars are well spent
  • Expand access to mental health services to students in need
  • Provide professional learning and high-quality materials to teachers to accelerate student learning and address unfinished instruction
  • Incentivize districts to implement additional academic support to students while maintaining access to grade-level content, such as high dosage, low-ratio tutoring
  • Monitor data on student learning and participation in school, identifying trends and deploying resources to address issues that inhibit student success

Tequila Cornelious

Watch Tequila Cornelious, an Instructional Literacy Coach at Freedom Middle School share her vision for education in Tennessee by the year 2025.