Jan 20, 2022 - Politics

School funding question remains in Tennessee

Illustration of a red apple with a hundred dollar bill for a leaf. 
Shoshana Gordon/Axios

As Tennessee moves closer to changing its education funding formula for the first time in decades, one of the most consequential questions remains unanswered.

  • Gov. Bill Lee has yet to say how much money he would put toward the formula, a factor many experts say is as important as the formula itself.

Why it matters: Lee's administration is quick to point out education funding has grown throughout his term, but the state remains nationally on the lower end of the funding scale.

  • The impact of a new formula will rise or fall based on the amount of money behind it.

State of play: The Tennessee Department of Education released a four-page draft plan last week that didn't include any dollar figures. The department is now reviewing public feedback of the plan.

  • Lee spokesperson Casey Black tells Axios there is "no firm timeline" for how quickly the process will move forward. Key legislators support considering a new formula this year.
  • Black said an increase in education funding is "likely," but did not discuss details.

Driving the news: The State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) released a memo this week outlining recommendations for improving education funding in Tennessee.

  • The memo called for a formula that allocates district funding based on specific student needs, which the state is moving toward.
  • It also recommended $1 billion in new, recurring state funding.

What they're saying: "We've got to add more resources to K-12 education under a new formula," SCORE president and CEO David Mansouri tells Axios. Doing one without the other is "not going to be sufficient."

Zoom out: The Tennessee Alliance for Equity in Education released a report yesterday that included formula reforms and increased funding on a list of recommendations to transform public schools.

  • The timing is ripe, the report stated, especially considering the influx of more than $4.5 billion in pandemic-related stimulus funds for education in Tennessee.

What's next: Lee's State of the State address on Jan. 31, and the corresponding budget proposal, could fill in some of the blanks.

The bottom line: "Until we see how much money is going to be committed to public education, these conversations are really just that: interesting conversations," Nashville Public Education Foundation president and CEO Katie Cour tells Axios.

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