Education, Policy

Summary of Governor Bill Lee’s Literacy Initiative

Governor Bill Lee has proposed a major initiative aimed at improving reading proficiency among Tennessee students, particularly in grades K-2, as they approach the critical fourth-grade reading benchmark. Here’s a summary of the Governor’s proposal, which the Roundtable has endorsed:


The Lee Administration’s 2020 Literacy Initiative (HB2229/SB2160): Executive Summary (inclusive of Amdt. 3)

I. Improving Literacy Instruction in Grades K-2: Requires TN’s public school districts (LEAs) to:

Implement new methods for teaching K-2 students to read, based on English language arts (ELA) standards adopted by the St. Board of Education (SBE) that include foundational literacy skills;

Provide K-2 students with SBE-approved foundational literacy textbooks and instructional materials, unless an LEA has delivered 4th – grade reading growth of “above expectations” for 2 years, and continues it for 3 years;

Give a TN Dept. of Education (TDOE)-approved reading diagnostic to all K-2 students (and to 3rd -graders with a significant reading deficiency) that benchmarks literacy skills and growth, three times per year;

Provide students who have significant reading deficiencies with additional instructional supports; and

Not promote 3rd -graders who lack basic understanding of reading curriculum and required reading skills, unless they participate in a foundational literacy skills-based intervention program before the next year.

II. Improving Literacy Instruction for K-2 Teaching Students—and Their Instructors

By March 2021, TDOE must provide to the St. Board of Education and to the General Assembly’s House and Senate Education Committee chairs, and post on its website, a report that includes:

A landscape analysis of literacy in Tennessee K-12 schools and LEAs, randomly selected;

A landscape analysis of literacy instruction by Educator Preparation Providers (EPPs); and

A joint analysis (with the TN Higher Ed. Commission) regarding EPP affordability for aspiring teachers.

By August 2021:

EPPs must train aspiring K-2 teachers on: (1) foundational literacy skills, (2) instructing/slow readers, (3) identifying/teaching dyslexic students, (4) using high-quality instructional materials, (5) behavior management in reading classrooms, and (6) understanding and using student reading data.

▪ The SBE must update its EPP regulations, and TDOE may develop additional guidance for EPPs.

➢ By August 2022:

To get a license/endorsement to teach in K-2, aspiring teachers must pass a “TN Reading Instruction Test”—specified by TDOE, approved by SBE—that tests their knowledge of foundational literacy skills.

To teach reading instruction to aspiring K-2 teachers, EPP instructors must have an active Tennessee teacher license, pass the TN Reading Instruction Test, or complete state literacy training (see Sec. IV).

EPP instructional leadership (principal/admin.) programs must teach foundational literacy skills.

EPP post-Bachelor’s students must pass the TN Reading Instruction Test to renew/advance their initial teaching license, and those holding a teacher/instructional-leader license from a reciprocal state must pass that Test, or earn a literacy certificate, before renewing/advancing their license in TN.

III. Making Third-Grade Reading Proficiency a Part of School and LEA Accountability

By June 30, 2021, TDOE must convene an advisory group on “meaningful integration” of third-grade reading proficiency (measured by student TCAP testing) into school and LEA performance goals and measures.

▪ TDOE and the stakeholders will consider how third-grade reading proficiency should be weighted in calculating school and LEA performance accountability. If changes are warranted, TDOE must submit proposed revisions to the St. Board of Education and, if necessary, to the U.S. Dept. of Education.

IV. New Training for Tennessee’s Pre-K-5 Public School Literacy Instructors

By June 30, 2022, all public-school literacy instructors in grades pre-K to 5th must participate in two separate, mandatory literacy trainings, provided regionally or locally by TDOE: the first on foundational literacy skills instruction, and the second on implementing literacy programmatic and instructional materials.

Literacy instructors earn a literacy certificate after completing the trainings and demonstrating proficiency.

Schools or LEAs must assign mentor teachers to support teachers who don’t earn the literacy certificate.

➢ LEAs can apply for competitive grants to get literacy implementation and coaching support for up to three years from state-approved providers, after which all literacy training will be provided by EPPs.

Business, Competitiveness, Policy, US

Roundtable Calls on Congress to Enact USMCA Trade Pact

The Tennessee Business Roundtable (“the Roundtable”; “TBR”) today voiced its support for the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) by joining several Tennessee business groups in signing a letter to Congress calling for enactment of the agreement.

“Mexico and Canada are two of Tennessee’s most critical trading partners, and our Roundtable stands with Tennessee’s business community in calling upon Congress to enact the USMCA agreement,” said TBR 2019 Chairman Anthony C. Kimbrough, CEO of Columbia-based Farm Bureau Health Plans.  “Tennessee exports over $15 billion in goods and services annually to Mexico and Canada, and trade with those two countries alone supports nearly a quarter-million jobs here in Tennessee,” Kimbrough added.  “There’s no question that Tennessee’s economy and globally-competitive workforce stand to win from implementation of the USMCA, and our Roundtable therefore supports enactment of this critical international trade policy as soon as possible.”

“Promoting stable and fair trade relations between the United States, Mexico and Canada is one of the most important things our congressional delegation can do to secure the long-term success of Tennessee’s economy,” stated TBR President Pat Sheehy.  “By making key improvements to existing trade rules between the U.S., Canada and Mexico on agriculture, intellectual property, goods market access, labor, and rules of origin, we expect the USMCA agreement will enhance the competitiveness of key Tennessee industries, including agriculture, chemicals, manufacturing, medical devices, and trucking,” he continued.  “Our Roundtable is proud to join TBR members Eastman, UPS and the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, and other Tennessee business leaders, in strongly supporting enactment of the USMCA by Congress.”

Signed in November 2018 by trade negotiators from the United States, Mexico and Canada, the USMCA now awaits ratification by the signatory nations’ respective national legislatures before taking effect.  White House officials submitted a so-called Statement of Administrative Action, a step toward introducing USMCA ratification legislation, to Congress on May 30.  Federal trade officials and congressional leaders continue to hold discussions aimed at resolving concerns about provisions on enforcement, labor, environmental standards, and drug pricing.

Click these links to see more about the importance of Tennessee and U.S. trade with Canada and Mexico, courtesy of the DC-based Business Roundtable and the USMCA Coalition.

Education, Policy, Workforce

Tennessee 2018 NSFY Grant Snapshot Released

In 2017, Tennessee was awarded $2 million in funding through a New Skills for Youth (NSFY) grant to aid in career readiness initiatives. The Roundtable was pleased to serve on the grant team which secured this funding and worked with those partners to create long and short term goals for the following year. This week, Advance CTE, one of the organizers of the NSFY grant, released snapshots of the progress made by each of the 10 state recipients.

Tennessee’s NSFY 2018 snapshot highlights:

  1. the establishment of a career pathways certification program;
  2. the addition of regional career pathways coordinators;
  3. and the alignment of career pathways across state departments.

The career pathways certification program emphasizes employer partnerships and requires EPSOs/work-based learning and alignment with labor market needs, while the new pathways coordinators act as the main points of contact between education and industry. In an effort to eliminate inefficiencies and reduce fragmentation, a statewide reorganization of disparate Dept. of Education, Economic Development, and Labor regions occurred, resulting in 9 coordinated regions.

These three focuses connect to the following TBR education and workforce policy priorities:

  • Accelerate alignment between the K-12 and post-secondary curricula that supply the high-skill, living-wage occupations in greatest demand in Tennessee’s economy.
  • Better-coordinate Tennessee state government’s workforce-development efforts, make them more transparent to those served, and open them up to input from and involvement by our state’s job-creators.

As we enter the third and final year of this grant, the Roundtable will continue to work with the Department of Education as a partner to help build pathways for students into Tennessee’s workforce. If you would like to learn more about the work currently being done by the state, or if you would like to get in touch with your Pathways regional coordinator to find out how you can get involved in career awareness in your area, contact Cassie Foote at

Business, Competitiveness, Education, Health, Policy, Transportation, Workforce

TBR Announces 2019 Policy Priorities

The Tennessee Business Roundtable today announced its 2019 State Policy Priorities, reflecting Roundtable members’ top concerns in the areas of Education & Workforce Development, Health, and Competitiveness & Business Climate.

“When we asked dozens of our state’s executive business leaders about their top policy concerns, they identified fourteen priorities for action by our Roundtable,” said TBR President Pat Sheehy.  “TBR is making these ‘big rocks’ our priorities in working with the incoming Lee Administration and the Tennessee General Assembly to create positive policy change supporting businesses, people and economic growth across our state’s three Grand Divisions.”

Here are the Roundtable’s top policy concerns for this year—click the links to view details about each priority:

Education and Workforce Development

  • Fix Tennessee’s K-12 academic testing—and keep it closely aligned to our state’s academic standards.
  • Keep Tennessee’s hard-won, rigorous K-12 academic standards strong—and keep improving them.
  • Expand the availability of early childhood education programs for Tennessee’s youngest future workers.
  • Accelerate alignment between the K-12 and post-secondary curricula that supply the high-skill, living-wage occupations in greatest demand in Tennessee’s economy.
  • Better-coordinate Tennessee state government’s workforce-development efforts, make them more transparent to those served, and open them up to input from and involvement by our state’s job-creators.


  • Fight the chronic health conditions which prevent too many Tennesseans from participating in and contributing fully to our state’s workforce, and whose costs hurt our economy, through policies that:
    • Empower employers to promote employee health through HSA and health insurance incentives.
    • Promote government-private sector partnerships to address chronic health conditions.
    • Enhance availability of low- or no-cost generic RXs to control chronic health conditions.
    • Increase the number of primary care providers in TN via better payment & opportunities.
    • Reduce regulatory barriers to workplace-based medical facilities.
  • Further expand access to affordable health coverage for working-age Tennesseans.

Competitiveness and Business Climate

  • Make state projects to relieve commercial and commuter highway congestion a top priority for planning, ROW acquisition, engineering, and completion, second only to critical safety repairs.
  • Make Tennessee’s franchise & excise tax rates more competitive with those of other Southeast states.
  • Preserve Tennessee employers’ rights to control firearms and other risks on their property.
  • Protect and improve Tennessee’s Worker’s Compensation and Unemployment Insurance programs.
  • Keep Tennessee welcome to all persons who want to contribute to our workforce and economy.
  • Keep Tennessee’s regulatory “playing field” fair for alternative & advanced energy development.
  • Fight the opioid abuse threatening Tennessee’s workforce productivity and business reputation.
Business, Leadership, Policy

Tennessee Business Roundtable Marks 35th Anniversary

Executive business group founded in 1983 hailed by Tennessee Governors for policy leadership

Nashville, TN, December 19, 2018 – Business and political leaders joined the Tennessee Business Roundtable (“TBR”; “the Roundtable”) today in celebrating the nonprofit state business policy organization’s thirty-fifth anniversary by recalling the group’s formation, policy achievements and outlook for the future.

On December 19, 1983, a group of seven prominent state business executives, led by former state Finance Commissioner Bill Sansom, announced the formation of the Roundtable for the purpose of promoting and protecting free enterprise in Tennessee, and held the organization’s first Board meeting. U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville), who was then serving his second term as the 45th Governor of Tennessee, recently recalled the motivations which led to TBR’s establishment:

“I frankly thought that the existing business organizations were too narrowly focused on their own specific interests, which is understandable. But I thought we needed a business organization focused on a broader set of issues which would help make Tennessee a better place to live and work, such as improving our schools and building the best four lane highway system in the country. I asked Bill Sansom of Knoxville, the former finance commissioner, and others to create the Tennessee Business Roundtable, and they did. I’m grateful for all that they’ve done, and I wish them success in the years to come.”

Founded on the belief that Tennessee’s vibrant economic climate is driven by an educated, healthy populace and sound state fiscal policies, the TBR has worked with Alexander, his successors and Tennessee General Assembly leaders to drive pro-business public policies.

“The Tennessee Business Roundtable has been a great partner over the past eight years, helping us implement some groundbreaking policies and programs, such as Drive to 55, Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect,” said current Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam (R-Knoxville). “I congratulate this important organization on its 35th anniversary and encourage the members to keep providing a voice for Tennessee’s business community in support of public education and other policies that benefit all Tennesseans,” Haslam added.

Now comprised of over fifty companies doing business in over a dozen industry sectors and hailing from all three Grand Divisions of Tennessee, the organization has pursued its Mission of optimizing the quality of life and well-being of all Tennesseans by convening business leaders and strategic thinkers who develop and seek to implement public policies that enhance Tennessee’s vibrant economic climate.

“Over the last thirty-five years, Tennessee has achieved meaningful gains in education, workforce development, and quality of life for its citizens,” observed TBR 2018 Chair Anthony C. Kimbrough, CEO of Farm Bureau Health Plans of Columbia, Tennessee. “Some of that progress has not been easy, and we’re proud that our Roundtable’s proactive voice has made a difference at critical stages of the policy efforts that have produced those gains,” he added.

Kimbrough also pointed to the Roundtable’s unique relationship with executive leaders in Tennessee state government as a key to its success. “Tennessee has been blessed with some strong political thinkers and doers at all levels of government, and we like to think that TBR has played a pivotal role in helping them think and do things that are tremendously helpful to Tennessee.”  Former Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen (D-Nashville) endorsed Kimbrough’s sentiments:

“During my eight years as Governor, the Tennessee Business Roundtable was a reliable thought partner on issues ranging from TennCare reform to workers comp reform. I especially appreciated the Roundtable’s focus over the years in education and workforce development. Our partnership in the Tennessee Diploma Project led to higher academic standards in K-12 classrooms across the state — and eventually made Tennessee the fastest-improving state in the history of the Nation’s Report Card. I congratulate the Roundtable’s leadership and membership on 35 years of advancing sound public policies and look forward to seeing how the organization works with Gov.-elect Bill Lee and future governors.”

As the Roundtable marks its thirty-fifth anniversary, Kimbrough says he and TBR’s member executives are firmly focused on achieving the organization’s vision for Tennessee.

“Our state’s future challenges will continue to center around many of the things about which our Roundtable members have always been concerned—quality of life, jobs and economic achievement,” Kimbrough observed. “While the hopes, needs and goals will remain the same, the challenges will present themselves in new ways, so the ways in which our business community contributes toward meeting them must continue to evolve,” he continued, adding, “TBR will bring together a mix of wisdom, business acumen and executive leadership to meet them, and will remain a dynamic force that brings together executives who have Tennessee’s best interests at heart.”

Business, Policy, US

Roundtable, NFIB, Chamber Co-Host 2018 U.S. Senate Forum with Blackburn, Bredesen

The Tennessee Business Roundtable, in partnership with the Tennessee Chamber and NFIB, hosted a 2018 U.S. Senate Forum at Lipscomb University’s College of Business on August 15, 2018, focusing on federal policy issues affecting our state’s business community.

Candidates Marsha Blackburn (R) and Phil Bredesen (D) answered questions posed by moderator Ben Hall of NewsChannel5 on tariffs, health care, infrastructure, taxes, and regulatory policy. The event was live streamed by NewsChannel5+ and can be viewed here.

Marsha Blackburn and Ben Hall
Phil Bredesen and Ben Hall
From left to right: Ben Hall, NewsChannel5; Jim Brown, NFIB; Patrick Sheehy, TN Business Roundtable; Bradley Jackson, TN Chamber of Commerce & Industry

“Our Roundtable convenes Tennessee business leaders to provoke productive conversations on business and policy matters, and in presenting this Forum, we were pleased to join with our fellow statewide business organizations to begin the general election conversation on Tennessee’s 2018 United States Senate race with candidates Blackburn and Bredesen,” said TBR President Patrick Sheehy (pictured right). 

“Great teamwork by Tennessee NFIB, the Tennessee Chamber and TBR allowed our state business leaders to hear directly from the candidates on trade, regulatory, health, infrastructure, and tax issues that affect our state’s economy and workforce.  We’re grateful to Lipscomb University for allowing our Roundtable, the Chamber and NFIB to provide this opportunity for our business community, and to Ben Hall and NewsChannel 5 for partnering with us to deliver an informative, timely event.”

Business, Competitiveness, Policy, Taxes

Tennessee Business Roundtable Calls for Pro-Business, Pro-Worker Federal Tax Policy Reform

Executive business group names Hamilton-Ryker co-founder McCreight to chair Policy Committee

Nashville, TN, October 24, 2017:  The Tennessee Business Roundtable (TBR) today joined a growing chorus of pro-growth organizations in calling upon the 115th Congress to enact meaningful federal tax reforms that deliver real relief to Tennessee businesses and wage-earners.

The Tennessee Business Roundtable favors changes to our nation’s current tax system that promote the growth of Tennessee’s economy, and the well-being and success of Tennessee families. Continue reading

Business, Leadership, Policy

TBR to Host 2018 TN Gubernatorial Candidate “Round-Robin” on Sept. 12 in Nashville

In conjunction with the Roundtable’s Fall 2017 Board Meeting in Nashville, TBR members and invitees will have an opportunity to hear directly from the men and women who want to serve as Tennessee’s next Governor.

TBR is inviting the 2018 gubernatorial candidates to share their respective policy visions for our state at its 2018 Gubernatorial Round-Robin on Tuesday, Sept. 12, time and location TBD.

“This forum provides a unique opportunity to have candid conversations with gubernatorial candidates about issues important to not only Farm Bureau but also the business community at large,” stated Anthony Kimbrough, CEO of Farm Bureau Health Plans. “I look forward to learning more about the candidates and their positions.”

TBR has invited the following declared candidates to provide remarks and take Q&A, in a serial non-debate format, with Roundtable members and invited guests:

  • Mae Beavers (R), Middle TN, State Senator (District 17)
  • Randy Boyd (R), East TN, business owner (Radio Systems Corp.) and former Commissioner of Economic and Community Development
  • Karl Dean (D),Middle TN, former mayor of Nashville
  • Beth Harwell (R), Middle TN, TN House Speaker
  • Bill Lee (R), Middle TN, business owner (Lee Company)

Others considering bids for governor include U.S. Rep. Diane Black (R) and TN House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D). The gubernatorial primary election will be held Aug. 2, 2018, with the general election on Nov. 6.

Registration for the Round-Robin is available to all TBR members, and to their invited guests via invitation only.  Click here to request event sponsorship information.

Education, Policy

Tennessee Submits Final ESSA Plan to U.S. Department of Education

In April the TN Dept. of Education submitted to the U.S. Department of Education its final plan for complying with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), enacted in December of 2015 as the successor to the No Child Left Behind federal education law.  The product of a yearlong process of listening tours, town hall meetings, and stakeholder feedback, Tennessee’s ESSA plan—which is slated to take effect on July 1 following review and approval by the federal government—includes a new focus on career readiness which is expected to help more students to graduate from the K-12 system better-prepared for employment and higher education.

ESSA builds on the recent progress being made in educational systems in Tennessee and across the country, which is leading to rising high school graduation rates and declining dropout rates. The new law now requires that all students be held to high academic standards which prepare them for college or careers after high school. Tennessee’s strategic education plan, put in place prior to the enactment of ESSA, closely tracks the new law’s major priorities and requirements and provided a strong foundation on which to build the state’s ESSA plan.

In January, the Roundtable submitted its feedback to the draft ESSA plan developed by the Tennessee Department of Education. After reviewing comments from over 1,000 groups and individuals throughout the state, the Dept. of Education made edits and adjustments to the draft plan which addressed areas of concern held by many stakeholders.

“The Roundtable’s primary concerns during the ESSA plan development process, which we voiced loudly and clearly to the Department [of Education] throughout, were to protect Tennessee’s commitments to high K-12 academic standards and to assessments which align with those high standards, and to put workforce readiness on par with college readiness in measuring K-12 school performance,” points out TBR Vice Chair Tinker Kelly (VEBA, Nashville, TN). “TBR fought successfully for decades to raise our state’s academic standards and to hold our schools accountable by measuring student performance against those standards, and we’re very pleased that Tennessee has ‘doubled down’ on those commitments by submitting an ESSA plan which protects those rigorous standards and assessments—and which affirms more clearly than ever before that career-readiness is just as important as being ready for college.”

Two new key indicators in Tennessee’s ESSA compliance plan will break new ground for the state in its measurement of opportunity and readiness. Tennessee’s new “Chronically Absent” indicator focuses on students who miss 10 percent or more of the days they are enrolled in school, and aims to decrease absenteeism by addressing the underlying causes of their truancy. To address readiness, Tennessee’s new Ready Graduate indicator will identify the percentage of high school graduates who achieve specified post-secondary readiness benchmarks, including scoring 21 or better on the ACT exam or attaining certain industry-recognized technical credentials, that increase their likelihood of succeeding in college and careers.

In response to feedback from TBR and other business interests on its draft plan, Tennessee’s final ESSA plan includes an additional “readiness check” within its Ready Graduate indicator. Students who complete two Early Postsecondary Opportunities and receive a sufficient score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery will now be included within that accountability measure as “ready graduates.” Additionally, the accountability weighting of the Ready Graduate indicator has been increased from 20% to 25%, while the weighting of the Chronically Absent indicator has decreased. Changes like these will encourage schools to prioritize career readiness offerings, leading to more students graduating prepared for college or the job market.

Click here to read about more changes to the December Draft ESSA plan.

Policy, Transportation

Haslam’s IMPROVE Act to Fuel Tennessee’s Economy

Increased Gas, Registration Levies Offset by Cuts in Non-Gas Taxes; Local TN Govts Gain Surcharge Referendum Option to Fund Transit

Following weeks of negotiations, political posturing and legislative maneuvering, Governor Bill Haslam on April 26 signed into law the first major update to Tennessee’s road-funding program in over 25 years.

Coupling modest increases in the state’s fuel taxes and annual registration fees with four significant tax cuts, the enacted version of the IMPROVE Act paves the way for accelerated work on a backlog of over $10 billion in much-needed improvements to state highway routes and bridges—and provides new transportation revenue and options to Tennessee’s local governments. Continue reading