Ensuring funding for educator paychecks and benefits is a TEA priority. Amid historic economic uncertainty, it is critical that members understand the measures taken to ensure incomes and jobs continue regardless of school building status.
Prior to recessing until June, the General Assembly made certain that public schools would continue to be funded despite being closed. In the education hold-harmless bill worked on by TEA, a provision was included that no school system shall forfeit state education dollars if it doesn’t meet the 180 instructional day requirement. None will.
The legislature also increased the rainy day fund from $1.1 to $1.45 billion as insurance for the 2020-2021 state budget. The final budget includes $5.4 billion for K-12 with increases of $59 million for salaries, $20 million for TCRS and $8.5 million for educator health insurance. Tennessee is in a better financial position than most states to weather this storm.
As revenue drops, local government finances remain a concern, especially considering that on average more than half of a local budget is dedicated to schools. Local dollars comprise 39% of overall education funding in Tennessee. The state increased financial assistance to local governments to $200 million, which is still just a fraction of the $3.5 billion local governments spent on Tennessee schools in 2019-2020.
As was the case with the economic collapse of 2008, it may be the federal government that becomes the most important guarantor of Tennessee education funding and educator paychecks. The $2 trillion rescue package expected to pass Congress at the time of publication has a $30.7 billion Education Stabilization Fund, with $3 billion for emergency relief and $13.5 billion to K-12 for a variety of needs, including saving educator jobs. There is $150 billion in emergency aid to state and local governments that could also bolster school system funding if revenues continue to slide. Tennessee’s share of this local government aid is estimated at $250 million.
“In 2009 and 2010, the federal government provided billions to school systems nationwide to prevent massive educator layoffs during the great recession,” said TEA Government Relations Manager Jim Wrye. “NEA was front and center in that effort, as they are now in advocating for essential aid during the COVID-19 emergency.”
TEA is committed to making sure no stone is left unturned for resources to keep certified and classified employees on the job and with a paycheck.
“We will look at every reserve, every pot of money, at every level to make sure health and education are the priority,” Wrye said.