‘Please don’t hurt my children:’ SCS leader responds to Tennessee bill that could take money from Memphis schools if they don’t reopen

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Memphis Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray urged lawmakers to vote against a controversial bill that if passed could take state funding away from school districts that are still closed for in-person learning.

“As you’re making decisions on behalf of students in Shelby County, please don’t hurt my children,” he said in a released statement. “I don’t think it is intentional, but the decisions of grown-ups show children their true colors. Because when you advocate for in-person learning against the decision of a duly-elected school board, you abridge the very essence of local control and run the risk of hurting my children. When you make decisions without visiting or talking or listening, you run the risk of hurting my children.”

Hear his full statement in the video below.

Rep. William Lamberth said the aim is to help children.

“This has everything to do with our kids and them getting a good education. In order to do that, they need an in-person option. That doesn’t mean every child has to be in every school. That means the option has to be there,” he said.

“Surely to goodness, every school can accomplish that goal,” he added.

Lamberth, joined by 27 other Republican representatives none of whom represent Shelby County, brought forth the House Bill 7021. In summary, it would require school districts to provide in-person learning for K-8 for a minimum of 70 days this year and 180 days next year in order to get Basic Education Program (BEP) funding.

“Our goal is that no school district could lose money, in fact, we’re putting millions of additional dollars into K through 12 education. We are just asking that our local school systems statewide have an in-person option for our children,” Lamberth explained.

Ray said it’s not that easy considering Shelby County has some of the highest COVID-19 numbers and deaths in the state. The district, whcih is the largest in the state, has been adamant on its decision to not return to in-person classes until the county sees a downward trend in cases.

News 2 responded to Lamberth, pointing out that he said ‘asking’ when some say this is threatening.

“Now it’s entirely their call, I mean, if they choose not to do so,” he responded, “Then they don’t need as much money for their school system if it’s all virtual, I mean it literally cost less money to do a virtual school system instead of an in-person school system. And so, we’re really allocating our resources to those schools that are stepping up and meeting state policy.”

In reality, as of right now, the bill really only matters for two districts still online: Shelby County Public Schools and Metro Nashville Public Schools.

“The problem that schools are having is enrollments down currently, that doesn’t affect this budget year affects their next budget year,” House Speaker Cameron Sexton told News 2, “So if we do absolutely nothing, they’re going to lose funding anyway.”

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