A new school funding proposal could go to the General Assembly as soon as last week of January
Hi, I’m Beth Brown, a high school English teacher from Grundy County and president of the Tennessee Education Association.
In October, Governor Lee announced an engagement process to review Tennessee’s funding formula for public schools. Since then, the Department of Education has conducted eight regional town hall meetings for public comments, hosted virtual events for public comments, and created an email address for public comments. Additionally, a steering committee and eighteen subcommittees were created to discuss the possibility of shifting Tennessee’s current funding formula—known as the BEP, or Basic Education Plan—from a resource-based funding formula to a student-based funding formula.
Today I’d like to give you an update on the review process.
As the president of the largest professional organization in the state, I serve on the Regional Collectives and Advocacy Subcommittee. Each subcommittee is slated to meet six times. At our most recent meeting (the fourth of six), we were tasked with reviewing initial feedback buckets and providing prioritization of resources within each category. At our next meeting, scheduled for next week, we will be reviewing public comment on a draft structure and offering final recommendations on formula components. At the final meeting, we will offer policy recommendations and recommendations on reporting structures. Our recommendations—along with the recommendations of the other seventeen subcommittees—will go to the steering committee, whose final report and recommendations will be submitted to the General Assembly.
These are the general recommendations that have been discussed:
- Districts should not receive less state funding than they currently receive in the BEP.
- Any funding plan should maintain flexibility for local district budgeting.
- A new formula should include funding for mandates currently funded outside of the BEP (e.g., RTI).
- Local match should be reconsidered AND maintenance of effort should not change.
The potential components of a student-based formula include:
- Base: the amount allocated to each student in the state for common education needs (those resources that should be provided to all students in the state)
- Weights: the weight (multiplier) assigned to students based on additional needs identified
- Direct funding: the dollar amount allocated to students based on specific programs
- Outcomes: additional dollars allocated based on getting stronger outcomes for traditionally higher-need student groups
I am pleased to report there has been significant discussion around the need for increased funding for nurses; counselors, psychologists, and social workers; education support professionals; and assistance principals. In addition, we have discussed the real need for increases in educator salaries and benefits. All of these have been priorities for TEA for years.
From the outset and throughout this process, I have heard concerns from across the state that the process has been too quick and is merely an attempt at pushing vouchers.
The process has been quick, and as a committee member, I have experienced significant frustration with the timeliness of meeting materials.
There has been no indication that any potential changes to the funding formula are tied to vouchers or other school choice measures.
Unfortunately, there has also been no indication that any changes to the funding formula will result in additional dollars being added to the state’s education budget. I and other stakeholders have stated repeatedly that unless there is an influx of funding into the education budget it doesn’t matter how we redistribute the funding to local school districts. The General Assembly will decide whether to increase education funding for Tennessee’s public schools, and the session will begin Tuesday, January 11th.
Committee members have been told that a new school funding proposal could go to the General Assembly as soon as the last week of January. If that is the case, any decisions around a potential new funding formula could be among the first of the legislative session.
TEA will continue to keep you updated. To help with that effort, we will again host our Monday evening legislative briefings, beginning January 24th at 5p CT. These one-hour briefings provide an opportunity for you to hear from me and our lobbyists about legislation currently moving in the General Assembly. You must register to attend these virtual briefings, but once you’ve registered, you don’t have to register again.
TEA will also be providing updates via our social media channels, our website, and our publications.
Finally, after a break for the last two years due to the pandemic, TEA will resume Civication this year. We hope you will consider joining us on the Tuesday of your spring break to visit your legislators and advocate for the schools our students deserve. Recognizing that we are still in a pandemic, however, we will also be creating alternate ways for you to engage in this type of advocacy.
This has been a long update, so thank you for sticking with me until the end… and thank you for your commitment to our profession and our association. Students need dedicated educators now more than ever, and I honor your efforts.
Please stay safe and well.