Breaking Ground 111 - Education Watch: Issues we’re tracking this school year

By Brian Keller, General Counsel and Director of Public Policy, TN Council on Developmental Disabilities

Across the state, students are settling into a new school year. It’s not news to their parents that students with disabilities continue to face additional challenges in getting the education supports they need. In fact, it’s stories from many of you – parents advocating for your school-age children – that have informed three issues the Council is watching closely this year.

First, a little about our role in education.

The Council on Developmental Disabilities works to improve education for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities by:

  • Providing reliable, accurate information
  • Learning about new best practices for inclusion
  • Engaging in solutions-focused advocacy

Our work is always informed by the real-life experiences of those living with disability. We work with state agencies and community groups to inform families and educators and create meaningful change for students with developmental disabilities. 

There are three key education issues we're tracking this year.

1. Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA)

TISA is the new education funding formula that will take effect next school year. Even though it won’t impact schools for another year, it’s a big deal. The way we fund public education in Tennessee hasn’t been changed for the last 30 years.

At the beginning of August, the TN Department of Education’s public comment period about the new funding plan closed. The Council provided comment based on input from our Governor-appointed members, who are Tennesseans with disabilities and family members of people with disabilities. (Read our comments here.)

Now, the Department of Education is reading through all the public comments and finalizing the regulations that will take effect in 2023. We’re waiting to see those final regulations to understand exactly how students with disabilities will be impacted. Stay tuned to our weekly public policy news for more information.

The personal view:

A Council member has shared many times how hard she’s worked towards inclusion in a general education classroom for her daughter, who needs significant support due to her disabilities and complex health needs. Her story and others led us to recommend that the Department of Education commit to routine IEP audits to make sure funds are being used to support students in the “least restrictive environment,” as required by federal law.

2.  School staffing shortages

We’re following stories about staffing shortages in schools, among teachers, paraprofessionals, and school-based therapists. There are hundreds of job openings across the state. We’re waiting to see how students with disabilities will be impacted once they get back to the classroom. Our hope is that districts can find a way to bring educators back and provide meaningful supports and services in the meantime – no small task.

The personal view:

A Council member shared with us her daughter’s story of how the lack of teaching assistants led to the class becoming so chaotic that her daughter was injured. The teacher was in tears over the incident. Other families have shared challenges with their students getting IEP services due to shortages of school-based therapists, or increased pressure for their children to spend more time in special education classrooms because of staffing shortages.

3. Behavior supports for students

We have heard countless stories from our Council members, as well as other community members, about difficulties in getting appropriate behavior supports for students with disabilities. We have also heard some amazing success stories about what happens when students get the right support.

This will be the first full school year that a new regulation from the Department of Education is in place. That regulation sets out guidelines for what must be included in a Functional Behavior Analysis (FBA) and Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP). (Learn more on the TN Dept. of Education's special education behavior webpage at

We’ve also been tracking several legislative proposals that would punish students who need behavior supports, including criminalizing the behavior of many students with disabilities. We’re concerned these proposals may unintentionally harm students and their families. We’ve also heard stories that some students with disabilities are being removed from their classrooms more frequently. Research shows us that when educators are supported with the right tools to deliver the right kinds of behavior supports for students with disabilities, many students thrive in inclusive classes with their peers.

The personal view:

A Council member who has a son with autism shared that behavior was affecting his son’s learning in school. This parent was struggling to access any behavioral supports through the school. Another parent reached out after her elementary school-aged son with autism was sent home for behavior issues nearly every day for weeks. The mother was struggling to get access to more support or information about how her son’s behavior plan was being used.

On the successful side, a Council member tells how help finding a medication interaction and access to the right therapy for her son with Down syndrome completely changed their family’s daily reality. The right supports have allowed her son to make huge progress in school.

If you have stories about behavioral supports for your child/student with disabilities, please share those with us. We want to hear both the positive and the negative stories:

  • problems with getting the services your child needs,
  • being removed from their classrooms or dismissed early,
  • AND successes where a student with disabilities is getting the right kind of support.

All these stories help us better understand what is going on in schools for TN students.


Help is available!

Every school year brings a new set of challenges, as well as opportunities, to be addressed by our community. Your stories help us better understand the issues and find the right policy solutions for students and families. Email us anytime at

In addition to our newsletters and social media, connect with our partners who work on education issues for students with disabilities, like: