Yeah, but what’ll it cost? Lee administration releases draft plan on school funding formula overhaul

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters outside the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee’s administration has released a draft framework for overhauling the state’s complicated school funding formula. Most expect it to be an expensive proposition, though nobody is saying for the moment exactly how much it would cost.

Here’s the release from the state Education Department:

Nashville, TN-  After months of strong engagement and conversations about public education funding in Tennessee and years of consistent feedback, today the Tennessee Department of Education released an initial draft overview of a potential student-based funding formula, informed by input of thousands of Tennesseans– parents, educators, superintendents, elected officials, business and community leaders, and citizens from across the state– and is encouraging all Tennesseans to send feedback on this draft framework by an extended deadline of Tuesday, January 18th at noon CT. Comment should be sent to tnedu.funding@tn.gov.

“I want to personally thank the Tennessee parents, teachers, students and citizens who have engaged in this important discussion about our state’s education funding, and to encourage all Tennesseans who want to get involved to send their public comments on this latest draft,” said Gov. Bill Lee. “As we plan for the future of Tennessee, this process will continue to ensure we’re listening to the people of the state and improving how we invest resources to set our students up for success.” 

As part of a robust public review and engagement process, Tennesseans from around the state have submitted public comment that is being shared with 18 subcommittees to help inform potential recommendations for a new funding formula. Any proposed new funding formula would prioritize strategic investments in students, transparent reporting and accountability, and student-centered decisions.

“People know what they want for public school funding, and we are thrilled so many Tennesseans have participated in this process and see what this will mean for students,” said Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “We know this cannot just be about a funding formula in isolation, but about what funding can do to accelerate achievement for our students, ensure they have access to a high-quality education, and set them up for success after high school.”  

The draft framework for a new student-based funding formula would include funding for all services and supports for K-12 public schools that are currently funded in the existing formula. The draft framework, available here for public review and comment, also reflects the following feedback from stakeholders:

• Base: Educator salaries, RTI2 support, Counselors and school-based supports, District-specific needs, Technology, Nurses, Coordinated School Health 
• Weights: Poverty and Concentrated Poverty, Rural, Unique Learning Needs (special education English learner, gifted, dyslexia), and Charter Schools
• Direct Funding: Fast Growing Districts, Tutoring for 4th Grade, Career and Technical Education (CTE)
• Outcomes: Literacy, ReadyGrad Indicators with Outcomes, CTE Completers, WBL and Apprenticeships, JROTC, FAFSA Completion 

Tennesseans are encouraged to submit public comment on the components of this draft by the deadline for public comment, which is Tuesday, January 18th at noon CT.

In late December, Commissioner Schwinn gave an update to Gov. Bill Lee on the public school funding engagement process and discussed next steps moving forward. Watch the recording here. 

Hundreds of public comments have been submitted from citizens throughout Tennessee. Common themes include: 
“College & career experiences and culture beginning in K. Create a culture where post secondary ed is the norm, present college and technical education with equality, and expose students to what jobs exist, but also the possibilities of jobs to be created!” – Nicole Carney (@mrsncarney), Twitter Town Hall Participant 

“Right now, it’s my belief that we need more money into our career technical programs. That’ll be our need for a few years and it may change to something else down the road–but we need to have that flexibility as you design this program, to do what we need to do.” – Mark Farley, Gainesboro Town Hall Attendee 

“Students need earlier intervention for reading disabilities and intervention for all that struggle with disabilities. Currently, smart kids with reading disabilities do not receive help if they manage to stay above their schools RTI dividing line. These students deserve to reach their full potential. Targeted intervention should be available for all disabled readers. Reading intervention needs to happen early, Kindergarten. Schools need more and better trained reading interventionists, not unskilled teaching assistants.” – Alison Turner, Emailed Public Comment 

“Fund programming and additional professionals sufficient to meet the needs of low-income students, English learners, students with disabilities, and students that are performing below grade level.” – Jerry Park, Emailed Public Comment 

“In order to strengthen our students and to benefit them in the future, I feel there are several places additional funding should be given. School Counselors; in larger schools, counselors can either hold class or meet with students in need.” – Jennifer Taggart, Emailed Public Comment 

“I feel like we need to have ways to help our teachers such as better pay for our teachers so we can keep good teachers, better retirement. More principles to help with the kids, more nurses, smaller classes with more teachers, more counselors, pay increase yearly with cost of living going up every year. This is just a few of the many ways we can help our schools and community.” – Sue Anderson, Emailed Public Comment 

After Gov. Bill Lee announced in October that the state would review its public school funding formula, hundreds of Tennesseans indicated they would be interested in supporting the work of the 18 school funding subcommittees tasked with making recommendations to a steering committee of legislative leaders for a new student-based funding formula in Tennessee. The department hosted eight public town halls and local match meetings across the state, and created an additional engagement opportunity for Tennesseans to participate in the process and has developed a simple form for School Funding Ambassadors to use to collect public comments from community members. Additionally, members of the Tennessee General Assembly are hosting events across the state. Additional information can be found here. 

All subcommittee meeting recordings are available online. Subcommittees will finalize formula recommendations in the coming weeks, which will be provided to Governor Lee for consideration.  

For Tennessee Department of Education media inquiries, contact Edu.MediaInquiries@tn.gov.  

Lawmakers scramble to raise money before high-noon deadline

Lawmakers are scrambling to collect last-minute campaign donations as a fundraising ban looms. The blackout begins once the gavel falls on the start of the regular session at noon on Tuesday. It will last until the General Assembly adjourns for the year — or May 15 if they can’t complete their business before then.

As Andy Sher of the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports, House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) had an event to raise money for his PAC on Monday at the Nashville City Club, while his Senate counterpart, Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), held an event at Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse .

Sexton spokesman Doug Kufner told the paper “the practice of hosting fundraisers on the day before the start of a legislative session is not uncommon and has occurred regularly among members of both parties in recent years.

Raising money will be all the more crucial for lawmakers facing potential primary challenges under this year’s newly drawn political maps.

Come and knock on our door: Senate GOP would have three districts meet in Nashville (UPDATED)

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville) appears at a Senate redistricting meeting in Nashville on Oct. 18, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The figurative white smoke is rising above the state Capitol as Senate Republicans have announced they will reveal their redistricting maps on Thursday.

The Tennessee Journal has learned the Senate preference is for a three-way division of heavily Democratic Nashville that would entail the 6th and 7th districts currently held by Republican Reps. John Rose of Cookeville and Mark Green of Ashland City, respectively, grabbing portions of the capital city. (This paragraph has been updated to show it’s Rose’s 6th, not Scott DesJarlais of the 4th District, that would move into Nashville).

Green would retain only about a third of Williamson County, the traditionally anchor of the 7th District when now-Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) held the seat. The remainder would become part of the new-look 5th District that has been held by Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper since 2003.

Rapidly growing Rutherford County would remain entirely within the 4th District, which would likely require an overall westward migration of the seat’s boundaries. DesJarlais is from the eastern side of the district.

The House GOP is scheduled to make its draft congressional maps public on Wednesday amid comments by House Speaker Cameron Sexton that Nashville could be split into two or three districts.

The two chambers have been understood to be at odds about how exactly to go about gaining an eighth seat, so the final shape of the plan could still change.

Sexton to AP: The Nashville split is on

Rep. Cameron Sexton presides over his first session as House speaker on Aug. 23, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

House Speaker Cameron Sexton is confirming plans to carve up the heavily-Democratic 5th Congressional District in Nashville to give Republicans a chance to pick up an eighth of the state’s nine congressional seats.

According to Associated Press reporters Kimberlee Kruesi and Jonathan Mattise, Sexton wouldn’t say exactly how many districts would split the state’s second-largest county.

“I won’t give an exact number. but it’s either two or three,” Sexton told the AP.

“I’ve never bought into the approach that having multiple people represent a big city is bad thing,” he said.

Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper has held the seat since 2003.

UPDATE: Andy Sher at the Chattanooga Times Free Press spoke to Sexton about whether plowing Democrats into currently safe GOP seats could make future races competitive.

“Well, everyone’s entitled to their opinion, which is fine. . . . Whether or not it does what people say it does, only time will tell that,” Sexton told the paper.

“It’s not unprecedented in our state where those large urban areas and congressional areas have been split . . . . We think we can do it, and we think it will be constitutional if we go that way,” Sexton said.

New TNJ edition alert: Congressional redistricting on tap, Robinson seeks to avoid prison time

Rep. John Mark Windle (D-Livingston), left, walks to look at a proposed House redistricting map on Dec. 17, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

It’s The Tennessee Journal’s first print edition of the year! Here’s what’s in it:

 — House to release congressional maps, but Senate mum on plans.

— Nashville is reportedly a finalist, but how far will mayor push for convention if GOP breaks up his brother’s U.S. House seat?

— From the courts: Robinson lawyers argue loss of Senate seat would be punishment enough for fraud conviction; Kelsey can’t use money campaign fundraiser to pay defense attorneys.

— State casts doubt on whether pharmacy benefit manager bill does what sponsors said it would do.

Also: Boyd runs Antarctic marathon, ECD halts China recruiting, Tennessee Waltz figure rejected for Memphis job, and Faison’s referee pantsing.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

White House: Tenn. nets $130M in energy assistance funds from ARP

President Joe Biden’s administration says Tennessee has received more than $130 million in energy assistance for low income homes as part of the American Rescue Plan.

Here’s the release from the White House:

Today, the Biden-Harris Administration announced that due to passage of the American Rescue Plan, Tennessee has received a record $130.4 million for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) available this fiscal year (October 2021 to September 2022). As part of a state-by-state breakdown of funding, the Administration reported that in addition to an annual appropriation of $66.1 million for Tennessee, the state received an additional $64.3 million in funds from the American Rescue Plan – close to double the state’s typical annual funding.

The total of $130.4 million is the highest amount Tennessee has ever received in LIHEAP to help families struggling with the costs of home heating.

• The American Rescue Plan More Than Doubled LIHEAP Funding Nationally: In 2021, the Biden-Harris Administration and Congressional Democrats delivered $8 billion in LIHEAP funding nationally, more than doubling typical annual appropriations due to $4.5 billion provided by the American Rescue Plan. This is the largest appropriation in a single year since the program was established in 1981. These resources are already allowing states across the country to provide more home energy relief than ever before.

• The American Rescue Plan Provided Additional Historic Resources for Utility Relief Including the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) Program and State & Local Fiscal Recovery Fund: The American Rescue Plan provided other critical resources that states and localities can use to address home energy costs. ERA programs, which received an additional $21.5 billion in funding from the American Rescue Plan, can provide help with past-due utility bills or ongoing assistance with energy costs to help distressed renters avoid shut-offs and keep current on expenses. State & Local Fiscal Recovery Funds can also be deployed to help deliver energy relief to families.

To ensure that these historic resources are distributed swiftly and equitably this winter, the Administration has taken action, including:

• Called on States to Plan Early: In November, the White House called on states, localities, and tribes to plan early to distribute American Rescue Plan funds to address home energy costs this winter.

• Secured Commitments from Utilities to Avoid Shut-offs and Expedite Aid: The White House called on utility companies to prevent devastating utility shut-offs and help expedite the delivery of unprecedented federal aid. So far, 14 major utility companies and a delivered fuel trade association have responded.

• Called for Coordination of LIHEAP and Emergency Rental Assistance Relief to Families: To maximize the impact of home heating assistance, the White House called for states, localities, and tribes to coordinate across programs including LIHEAP and ERA. The Department of Health and Human Services and the Treasury Department have issued guidance and co-hosted webinars on LIHEAP and ERA best practices that have attracted over 500 administrators – collectively representing 47 states, the District of Columbia, and 72 tribal governments. More than 50 percent of these administrators now report they are coordinating across these programs.

Here come the new plates (stickers, too)

Tennessee’s new tags are on the way. And while the state is at it, there will also be new new annual registration stickers that will include both the year and month of expiration on them.

Here’s the release from the Revenue Department:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Department of Revenue reminds Tennessee drivers that they will receive newly designed license plates in 2022.  The new license plates will be available online, by mail, and in-person as residents complete their annual motor vehicle registration renewals.

Under Tennessee law, the plate may be redesigned every eight years if funds are approved in the General Assembly’s annual budget. This new license plate design will replace the current plate design launched in 2006, with modifications in 2011, 2016, and 2017.

Points to note:

— License plates are issued through Tennessee’s local county clerk offices. Motorists can visit www.tncountyclerk.com to renew online.

— New plates can be renewed in person, online, by mail, or by kiosk. If you choose not to renew in person, the renewal fee will include $5 for mailing.

— Motorists are not able to renew early to receive the new license plate. You must wait until your designated renewal month.

For more information and answers to commonly asked questions, visit www.tn.gov/revenue/newplate.

The Department of Revenue is responsible for the administration of state tax laws and motor vehicle title and registration laws and the collection of taxes and fees associated with those laws. The department collects about 87 percent of total state revenue. During the 2021 fiscal year, it collected $18.4 billion in state taxes and fees and more than $3.7 billion in taxes and fees for local governments. To learn more about the department, visit  www.tn.gov/revenue.

Celebration for ex-Haslam adviser hosted by Haslam at Haslam Center

State Attorney General Herbert Slatery, right, speaks with Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station) on the House floor in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Bill Haslam is hosting a reception for state Attorney General Herbert Slatery, the former governor’s onetime legal adviser, at the Tennessee State Museum on Wednesday. The event celebrates an award Slatery has received from the National Association of Attorneys General. The museum building, incidentally, was recently named the Haslam Center.

Cohosting the event is Gif Thornton, a lobbyist and managing partner of the Adams & Reese law firm. He also chairs the Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments, which recently submitted a slate of three state Supreme Court finalists for Gov. Bill Lee to choose from.

Tennessee is the country’s only state where the attorney general is chosen by the Supreme Court. Slatery’s eight-year term is up this fall, but he has declined to say whether he will seek another appointment to the job.

Here’s the invite to the reception:

Statehouse emerging from holiday slumber

A statue of President Andrew Jackson is seen in front of the state Capitol in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Tennessee Capitol complex is emerging from its holiday slumber after observing the New Year’s holiday on Monday. Lawmakers return into session next week, with much attention focused on Wednesday’s scheduled unveiling of redrawn congressional maps.

Meanwhile, the state chapter of the Americans for Prosperity is looking to get back on track after failing to put a dent in the state’s massive incentive package to cement Ford Motor Co.’s $5.6 billion investment into the Memphis Regional Megasite.

Here’s the release from the AFP:

NASHVILLE, TN — Americans for Prosperity-TN (AFP-TN) previewed its 2022 Legislative Agenda, which includes priorities to unlock economic freedom, expand educational opportunity, and enact criminal justice reforms. 

The 2022 Legislative Agenda is available here

AFP-TN State Director Tori Venable released the following statement: 

“As lawmakers return to Nashville, AFP-TN is focused on advancing policies that will help every Tennessean reach their full potential. This includes lowering taxes and advancing economic freedom, giving parents more say in their children’s education, and critical criminal justice reforms. We are looking forward to engaging with legislators about advancing priorities to break down the government barriers that hold people back.”  

Legislation AFP-TN will be advocating for includes: 

— Repeal of the Professional Privilege Tax.

— Reform the school funding formula to be student-centered and flexible.

— Expand open enrollment across state.

— Fund the police through transparent budgets.

— End civil asset forfeiture .

AFP-TN will be rolling out the agenda at events across the state in the coming weeks. 

Drew Alexander, son of former governor and senator, dies at 52

Drew Alexander, a music publishing executive in Nashville and son of former governor and senator Lamar Alexander, died Friday at age 52.

Here is the obituary from the Alexander family:

Nashville—Andrew Franklin Alexander, age 52, passed away December 31, 2021 after a short illness. Drew was born in Washington, D.C., on September 21, 1969. He moved with his family to Nashville, TN, when he was one year old. He attended Ensworth School, became a member of Westminster Presbyterian Church, and graduated from University School of Nashville. He then attended Kenyon College in Ohio where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Music. In 1994 he went to work for Curb Records in Nashville as a receptionist. Quickly he rose to lead the company’s publishing division. As Vice President of Publishing, he oversaw the division’s forty-five employees and songwriters. A classically trained guitarist, Drew also directed creative and administrative aspects of the company where he set budgets, signed songwriters, negotiated contracts, placed songs, and acquired catalogs.

During his tenure Curb Music Publishing earned eighty-seven ASCAP, BMI and SESAC performance awards, and set records for the fastest rising country single and the longest charting country single in Billboard Country chart history. In 2017, after 23 years at Curb, Drew stepped down from his role as Director of Publishing but continued working with the Mike Curb Foundation. Drew also founded his own company, Blair Branch Music. He became an active community volunteer working with numerous Nashville agencies including Second Harvest Food Bank, Nashville Rescue Mission, and Room at the Inn. Drew’s motto was “give more than you take”. When he wasn’t on the phone raising money for the needy he often could be found serving lunch at homeless shelters.

Drew served on the boards of The Recording Academy, Belmont School of Music, Family and Children’s Service, the Community Resource Center, Leadership Music as Treasurer, and the Tennessee Residence Foundation as Secretary. He was a member of the Country Music Association, the Gospel Music Association, Academy of Country Music, and the Downtown Nashville Rotary Club.

Drew helped many artists and songwriters get their start in Nashville and had many friends in the music industry. Over the years he hosted small groups of songwriters and artists, including Lee Brice, Bill Anderson, Kyle Jacobs, Billy Montana, Kelsea Ballerini and many others, at writing retreats at his family’s home at Blackberry Farm in East Tennessee, at Evins Mill in Middle Tennessee, and at Bending Lake in Canada. From these dozens of sessions came more than 1,000 songs including many hits. Drew was active with the National Songwriters Association defending songwriters’ legal rights.

Drew loved his daughters, his friends and watching sports with them all, especially the Tennessee Titans and University of Tennessee basketball and football—and he loved to fish, traveling around the world in pursuit of new adventures. Drew is survived by two daughters, Lauren Blair Alexander and Helen Victoria Alexander of Nashville; his parents, Honey and Lamar Alexander of Walland, TN; two sisters, Leslee Alexander of Maryville, TN and Kathryn Alexander of Briarcliff Manor, NY; his brother, Will Alexander of Nashville; and, seven nieces and nephews. The Alexander family wishes to express our thanks to Drew’s friends Bruce Phillips and Hal Hardin for their many kindnesses to him.

There will be a private graveside service for family members at the family cemetery at Hesse Creek Chapel in Walland, TN, with the Rev. William J. Carl, Drew’s uncle, officiating. In lieu of flowers donations may be made to Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee, 331 Great Circle Road, Nashville 37228. A Celebration of Life will be held at a later date in Nashville.