Tennessee Education Leaders Seek Community Input During Public School Funding Strategy Change Process

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (WKRN) – Residents are invited to have their say in how education is funded in Tennessee. The state’s education ministry is holding several public meetings to hear from parents, educators and other stakeholders as part of the process to revise its funding strategy.

“I think we’ve been talking about this for a very long time as a state and we want to move on not just talking about all the things we want to be different, but actually having a more productive conversation about what we can build together. as a state, ”said Education Commissioner Dr. Penny Schwinn. “When we look at all of the changes in education as a result of the pandemic, we look at the health of our economy and we look at the critical importance of what we need to provide for children, we want to make sure that we have these productive, action-oriented conversations.

The state’s current school funding framework is known as the Basic Education Program (BEP) and the ministry said it had not been significantly updated for over 30 years. .

“We’re in dispute over our current funding formula so we’ve really framed this because we’re going to let this happen in its own space,” Dr Schwinn said. “It always gives us the opportunity in the window to determine what we want.”

The Tennessee Education Association represents tens of thousands of teachers, and leaders have said the organization supports any discussion of education funding.

“Tennessee ranks 46th in the country for our per student investment,” said Beth Brown, president of TEA. “I know Governor Lee has publicly stated that he wants to make Tennessee the best place to teach and learn. And frankly, the 46th in the country in per student investment is not going to get us there. “

We asked Dr Schwinn if additional funding for education would be included in the review of the state’s funding strategy.

“I think it’s all on the table,” Schwinn replied. “I think it’s really important to say that we can’t change a funding formula and have winners and losers. So all of our districts must have at least what they have now. “

According to Brown, the BEP is reviewed by a committee every year and there have been bills over the years to adjust the formula, but she hopes that effort will bring about a more meaningful change.

“TEA has long advocated for increased funding for nurses and counselors, thereby reducing the ratio in our state. Right now we only fund one nurse for every 3000 students. We talk about this part of the funding formula all the time, ”said Brown. “What’s different about it is that it looks like they want to go in and do a complete overhaul. And again, I think if you’re not talking about increasing the amount of funding, it doesn’t matter how you revise the formula itself.

The ministry said the goal was to focus its funding more on a student-focused strategy, which Brown finds worrying.

“I’ve asked educators across the state to contact TEA to find out, ‘Wait, is this a back door voucher approach where we’re going to give the kids a backpack full of cash and let them roam? “Is that compensation for student test scores?” Brown said. “There are some questions raised by the language used to describe this process, because quite frankly we have a funding formula that when you look at it seems to be student-centric because you generate funds based on how many. students enrolled in your district.

We asked Dr. Schwinn to explain what the department means by its goal of having a “student-centered” funding strategy. She said most states currently have a resource-based strategy and want to focus more on the needs of individual students rather than their school system.

“[Currently] We will look at what are the big things that need to be funded. We see how many children are in a district and different types of children are in a district and we fund for that need. So, for example, you could say that for every 500 students in a school, there is a principal who is then funded. But we want to make sure we’re really looking at the needs of the students and not the needs of the system, ”Schwinn explained. “You might have a student here who needs extra support because he has a disability, he speaks a language other than English, he lives in a rural community. And so we know it’s more expensive for transportation. And here a student can have completely different needs, he is economically disadvantaged, he also speaks a language other than English, whatever it is.

The department is now holding several town halls across the state to gather public comment, but Brown said there were concerns about the state’s approach to hearing from members of various communities.

“I am happy that there are town halls. I know there has been a certain level of frustration not only among educators, but also among parents and community members, about the short notice of some of these meetings and some of the inconvenient places, ” Brown said, adding that she encourages everyone to speak up. on the need to invest more in education. “Frankly, we are inundated with money in this state, we continue to collect billions of dollars in surplus revenue, and it’s time our lawmakers put the money where they say it is. And if they say it’s a priority, that makes Tennessee the best place to teach and learn. And if we are committed to overcoming the disruptive learning caused by the pandemic, if we are committed to ensuring that every student is ready to pursue their dreams after their high school career, they have the opportunity to do so. And it costs money.

CLICK HERE for more information on upcoming town hall meetings and how to watch live broadcasts.

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