Feb 25, 2022 - Politics

Lee unveils long-awaited public school funding plan

School bus with money
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Gov. Bill Lee yesterday unveiled his long-awaited plan to overhaul public school funding in Tennessee.

  • Administration officials said the plan will increase funding for local districts with stable enrollment.

Why it matters: Tennessee ranks near the bottom nationally for education funding, and experts say the current system for divvying up resources does not give districts enough to meet the complex needs of their students.

  • Lee's proposal turns toward a student-based funding model that most other states have already embraced.

How it works: The new funding formula calls for $9 billion in annual state and local funding. It would allocate a base amount of $6,860 per student to districts.

  • Additional funding would be doled out based on a series of factors. For instance, economically disadvantaged students would get a 25% boost to their base amount.
  • Extra funding would go to students with special learning needs — including English learners or students with dyslexia — and to students in small or sparsely populated districts.
  • Programs to improve literacy, provide tutoring and allow for career technical education would also generate additional funding for different pockets of students. Districts could get more funding based on student outcomes or fast enrollment growth.

By the numbers: Under the new funding formula, Metro Nashville Public Schools would see its funding jump by about 7%, or $47.5 million, according to a state estimate.

Meanwhile, charter school students would get a 4% bump to their base funding amount. Education commissioner Penny Schwinn said that would go toward facility needs currently paid for outside the funding formula.

What they're saying: "We need to invest more in our public schools in our state, but we don't need to invest in a bulky, out-of-date funding formula," Lee said while announcing the plan.

What's next: The governor's plan now goes to the General Assembly.

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