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.” 

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