State Kicks Off Review of School Funding

Gov. Bill Lee at Hanley Elementary in April 2021

Gov. Bill Lee and Tennessee education commissioner Penny Schwinn announced Friday morning a new plan regarding the state’s education funding formula. The state will launch a public engagement period when families, staff and other stakeholders across Tennessee can engage with the Department of Education about education funding. Participants will review the state’s Basic Education Program formula and explore new funding options and possibilities through meetings, surveys and more. 

“We will pursue a rigorous review of our state’s education funding to ensure we are properly investing in students and stewarding our resources well,” says Lee in a release. “I invite every Tennessee parent to tell us about their current experiences as well as their hopes for the education, environment and experience in our K-12 public schools.” 

Tennessee’s current BEP formula is nearly 30 years old and unpopular throughout the state. In February, a suit on behalf of more than half of the state’s districts will address a six-year-old case that argues Tennessee does not adequately fund its schools. According to the Education Law Center, the state’s student funding ratio is among the lowest in the nation, ranking 43rd in per-pupil funding; each Tennessee student receives $3,655 less than the national average. 

Districts small and large argue that the antiquated BEP formula does not adequately fund classroom costs. According to Chalkbeat Tennessee, studies have found that the BEP formula does not provide sufficient funds to hire enough certificated staff like psychologists and social workers, nor does it adequately pay teachers. To make up for this loss, local governments have to pick up the slack and provide millions in additional funding.  

“The real problem here isn't the complicated formula to split up the BEP funds,” says state Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) in a release. “The problem is the uncomplicated decision to invest fewer dollars in education than basically every other state. We've reviewed, task-forced and blue-ribbon-commissioned the BEP to death over the last two decades. There's no shortage of solutions so much as there's a shortage of will to follow the recommendations we've received.

“While we're all for adjusting the components and calculations to address inequities and outdated assumptions,” Yarbro continues, “the real question is our timeline for investing an additional almost $2 billion each year in schools so that we might catch up to our neighbors and might get out of the bottom 10 list for per-pupil funding.”

Those who are interested in participating in the state’s public-engagement period can learn more at TDOE’s website and fill out this form to receive updates.

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