📝 Fooling With The Ruling 📝 The UnifiEd Student Voice Team Blog Surrounding Policies
In the dumpster fire that has been recent education policies across the nation, Tennessee stands out as an especially vivid and fragrant flame of the burning trash heap. From controversial legislation...
surrounding Critical Race Theory and Transgender Students in Sports to bans on textbooks that feature any reference to LGBTQ+ people or “lifestyles” and promises of future financial aid for increased mental health supports, there’s no shortage of interesting legislation in Tennessee surrounding education alone. It’s amazing to me how detailed the policies have been lately to suppress LGBTQ+ rights and representation within the state of Tennessee. Yet, the policies relating to increased mental health support rely primarily on saying that the money will be used in the future as needed. The priority scales of lawmakers in Tennessee when dealing with education are majorly flawed right now. As a (now former) high school student, it’s concerning to see that making sure students aren’t allowed to see themselves represented in their education because the legislators are prejudiced against them because of who they love, how they identify, or even for the color of their skin is more important to legislators than funding for basic needs like school infrastructure, access to mental health supports, or compensating teachers fairly.
Before the pandemic, Governor Bill Lee had proposed the creation of a Mental Health Trust Fund that would eventually serve to fund added mental health supports over time in Tennessee by putting money in an endowment to earn interest. In March 2021, Governor Lee renewed his plans to do so. In May, the bill to fund the endowment was approved. It’s great to see some priority focus on expanding mental health supports; however, this is a relatively passive way to solve a dire issue facing our state’s students. I would love to see the plans for this money be prioritized and the work done more actively than just simply planning to use the money in the future for this. It would be encouraging to, at the very least, see a timeline type plan for when different goals will be met throughout the time of this endowment. To truly fix the problem, there need to be measurable and accountable goals for each Mental Health Trust Fund goal rather than just throwing money at the problem. I’m so thankful for money to be going to this at all, butit's just so frustrating to know that students preparing for Youth in Government create more well thought out solutions for issues like thisthan the entirety of the Tennessee legislative system has with this. I feel like it's pretty reasonable to expect the same level (if not more) of longevity planning for the effectiveness of a bill with this magnitude of funding from adult legislators as is expected from high school students at an extracurricular conference. But maybe that’s too high of an expectation. It is possible that these plans exist and simply aren’t available to the public without a full wild goose chase which is nearly just as frustrating. There is a general problem with a lack of transparency within government. Still, one would think that showing priority areas for mental health at the state level would be incredibly helpful to show local education systems, advocacy organizations, and those that support our schools and students how they can support these efforts in their actions. I’m not sure if this is merely a case of a lack of planning or a lack of communication, but either way, the state of Tennessee can genuinely do more to support students and their mental health than simply throwing money at the issue.
Recently, Tennessee has adopted a new strategy to create future education budgets for the state by modifying the education funding formula that determines how much money school systems get from the state in their Basic Education Program (BEP) funding. This process claims to be a student-centered approach grounded in public engagement and feedback from professionals within the education field. This process is a monumental leap from the previous methods of gaining input. It incorporates school system administrators, teachers, student leaders of CTSOs (Career and Technical Student Organizations), and advocates from a few partner organizations. There’s definitely some room for improvement in terms of recognizing more student voice and input, but this is a huge start for Tennessee. When I heard about the program, I was excited, but I was somewhat worried that the Department of Education would selectively hear the feedback provided to meet what state officials want to hear or simply be disregarded in favor of what was already planned. It’s hard to know exactly what’s happening in processes like this, both in terms of transparency of information and the general inaccessibility of the complex process.
Overall, there’s clearly a lot of improvements that can be made within the Tennessee legislative system, even in areas where progress is happening. This may seem discouraging, and it is sometimes, but it’s essential to find ways to improve. It’s crucial to value growth and improvement over staying stagnant and stuck in ways that may no longer be effective or representative of the needs or wants of society.