NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Details of Governor Bill Lee’s attempt to rewrite how Tennessee funds schools have been released. The state says it will direct around $9 billion over the next several years giving each student a specific dollar amount for funding if Lee’s bill is passed.
This comes after months of no public plan to rewrite Tennessee’s 30-year-old school funding formula known as the Basic Education Program. The 50th governor is now revealing how your tax dollars will be used to fund schools in a new way
“We need to invest more in our public schools in our state but we don’t need to invest in a bulky out-of-date funding formula,” Lee said.
With a combination of base funding, student-specific weights, direct funding, and outcomes spending here’s how Lee’s education proposal works.
Let’s take a look at an example of Elementary School Students provided by the Department of Education:
Student 1 — would receive a base funding amount of $6,860 with added funds for unique learning needs and a grade-specific K-3 payment of $500 for literacy.
Student 2 — has more “weights” including poverty status, size, and unique learning needs — which would mean more funding for the child to take wherever.
“They deserve funding that fits every student’s individual needs and circumstances and this formula is designed to do just that,” Lee said.
Democrats previously proposed adding a billion dollars to education funding years ago say with just weeks left in the legislative session the governor should slow down.
“But before we start going down a path of really trying to do something that can be really unsettling to public education around the state we should be very careful very thoughtful and I’m not sure that we can do that in the next three weeks when no one in this building has had a chance to talk to anybody in their districts about this plan yet,” Sen. Jeff Yarbo (D-Nashville) said.
The new formula does provide extra funding for charter schools and brings some charter school funding left out of the BEP into Governor Lee’s education formula. But charters, and whether traditional schools will suffer funding loss, was not a topic Lee wanted to dive into.
“Public schools are charter schools, charter schools are public schools, thank you,” Lee said as he left the press conference.
Many argue that’s not true, charters are publicly funded but have more flexibility than traditional public schools.
Tennessee underfunds public schools by nearly $2 billion.
Additionally, under Lee’s plan, school districts that receive failing grades could be asked to appear before the general assembly and could risk a state take over.
With lawmakers being allowed to take corrective actions or appoint an inspector general to oversee the school’s budget and curriculum.