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Tennessee governor aims to overhaul public school funding with $9B proposal

Published: Feb. 24, 2022 at 6:42 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Tennessee Governor Bill Lee is proposing a major overhaul of public school funding.

The current model has been in place for 30 years.

It’s called the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement Act (TISA). The bulk of the bill outlines the use of $9 billion for public and public charter schools. The $9 billion is local and state funds, but Lee said the plan includes $1 billion in recurring state funds and $750 million in one-time funds from the state for this year.

“The formula is straight forward. It fits in a folder just like this,” Gov. Lee said during a press conference Thursday. “This is not a bulky, bureaucratic piece of legislation.”

But it’s a formula school districts said will take some time to determine how it will impact their students. Action News 5 reached out to the seven municipal school districts in Shelby County.

Memphis Shelby County Schools (MSCS) superintendent, Dr. Joris Ray, said he had a one-on-one conversation with Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn last week, but the bill was still being hammered out.

MSCS said, “We understand this will be an overhaul to legislation that has been in place for over 30 years. It will be proposed to the General Assembly and we look forward to analyzing the final legislation.”

“Our goal is to take what is a cumbersome and outdated [Basic Education Program (BEP)] formula and create a model that supports, in a transparent way, students in our state,” Lee said.

TISA breaks down $9 billion of proposed public education funding into four categories.

The $6.6 billion in base funding for covering essential K-12 needs will be split 70/30 by state and local funds. The base funding for every Tennessee student is just over $6,800. There is $1.8 billion in weight funding, which will add funds to students with special learning needs, economic disadvantages, and those in rural schools.

Then, $376 million will be for direct funding for learning opportunities outside classroom instruction, like tutoring and career training. Finally, $100 million is outlined in incentives for student achievement.

Local funds would not increase until the fiscal year 2027.

“I think the idea is when we are more specifically targeting resources to those students who need them and we are being transparent and accurate, reporting and holding district and school accountable for how that money is spent to benefit those students who need it the most, that should generate better outcomes,” Schwinn said.

In TISA, school boards will have to make annual reports for the General Assembly, outlining goals and how it will use its budget to achieve those goals. Schools with D or F grades may have to appear in front of an ad hoc committee made up of members of the General Assembly.

The bill also sets aside $125 million for teacher raises in 2023. Ray has a goal of getting his teachers to be the highest-paid in the state.

“It’s going to take everybody,” Ray said. “Not only the state but the county and possibly the city.”

Districts said Schwinn is calling each individual superintendent. A spokesperson for Germantown Municipal School District said it would be more appropriate for the district to comment after that conversation with Schwinn is had.

Millington Municipal School District director of schools, James Griffin, said he doesn’t know how the funding will impact students in his district.

“I think what is important is that this is still just a bill and has to be voted on by our legislators to become the new way of funding education in Tennessee. I do like the process the TDOE has taken with getting information from all but will not officially know how great a difference this bill makes until it becomes law,” Griffin said.

Lakeland School System Superintendent Ted Horrell said, “We have not seen what our specific funding numbers would look like under this formula, but I’m very encouraged by the thoughtfulness and level of detail in the proposal. I appreciate the acknowledgment that some students require additional support and that districts should receive additional funding to provide those supports. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I’m optimistic that our system will be able to do more for our students and do the things we do better.”

Arlington Community Schools also said the conversation with Schwinn has not happened yet, and until that happens, does not have any information to share.

Bartlett City Schools and Collierville Schools did not return our request for comment Thursday.

The $9 billion proposal has an uphill battle with over a month left of the year’s General Assembly session. Schwinn said it will have to go through seven committees then the full House and Senate.

Tennessee Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R) said this Thursday after TISA was unveiled, “I appreciate Governor Lee, Commissioner Schwinn, and the administration for their efforts in creating a plan that modernizes funding in our K-12 schools. We cannot, as a state, continue to fund schools based on a decades-old model that assumes the classroom of today is the same as one in the 1980s. Our goal must be to make sure every student has the knowledge and aptitude to find a job, attend a vocational school or a university. This new approach achieves this goal and uses outcomes, accountability, and an individualized student funding model to reshape our educational direction.”

Senator Raumesh Akbari (D) of Memphis said, “Two years ago, I called for a $1.5 billion investment in public education because our school districts and teachers are starving for resources. This plan makes an important down payment, but, when it comes to public school funding, the details matter.

Most districts are still reviewing this legislation. It will be heard in front of several committees in the coming week.

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