basic education program

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.  

Lee calls for review of much-litigated school funding formula

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference in Nashville on March 22, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee is calling for a review of the state’s complicated Basic Education Program school funding formula. Complicating any attempted overhaul are the years of legal battles fought about the fairness of the current system and a zero-sum approach many lawmakers bring toward making any changes affecting districts in their home areas.

Here’s the full release from the governor’s office:

Nashville, TN – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn invited Tennesseans to participate in the full review of the state’s education funding formula and explore possibilities for a more student-centered approach.  

“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,” said Gov. Lee. “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.” 

The state’s current school funding framework, also known as the Basic Education Program (BEP), has not been meaningfully updated in more than 30 years. 

“Tennessee’s students are the future of our state, and we’ve got to be sure our public schools are well-equipped to prepare each and every one of them for lifelong success,” said Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “Consistent with our focus to continuously improve the academic achievement of all Tennessee students, we are excited to open public conversations and discuss an investment strategy that aligns with those goals and values.” 

District and school leaders, elected officials, families, education stakeholders and members of the public will be engaged in the coming months through committees, survey opportunities, local meetings and more. Public engagement will focus on a student investment strategy that incorporates the following: 

— Prioritizes students over systems 

— Empowers parents to engage in their child’s education 

— Incentivizes student outcomes 

— Ensures all students, regardless of location or learning needs, are served at a high-level 

— Reflects Tennesseans’ values 

— Creates flexible funding that prepare students for postsecondary success 

“How we fund education is one of the most important conversations that we can have as a state,” said House Education Administration Committee Chairman Mark White. “Today’s announcement and the engagement opportunities to follow will better equip leaders at all levels as we ensure that school funding works to serve all students. I am excited for the opportunity to work alongside my colleagues in the General Assembly, the administration, local officials, educators, and parents on this important topic.” 

Continue reading