Mar 9, 2022 - Politics

K-12 spending plan debated

Gov. Lee.
Gov. Lee. Photo: Henry Taylor/The Leaf-Chronicle/USA Today Network

Battle lines are being drawn in the debate over Gov. Bill Lee's overhaul of Tennessee's education spending plan.

  • Education commissioner Penny Schwinn pitched the plan to a House subcommittee on Tuesday. There, Rep. John Ray Clemmons questioned why the update needs to be passed this session, since the plan was only unveiled two weeks ago.

Why it matters: Lee is proposing a switch to a "student-based funding" system that would steer money toward students with learning disabilities, with economic disadvantages and English learners.

  • State officials initially touted $47.5 million in new funds for Nashville. But after questions from city officials, the state clarified that only $12.6 million would come from the state budget.

Driving the news: Mayor John Cooper and Metro Nashville Public Schools director Adrienne Battle have been critical of Lee's plan, saying Nashville would not get its fair share of the $750 million in new state funding Lee earmarked for the new formula.

  • Cooper said last week he was "dismayed" at the amount of new money coming to Nashville. Last year alone, Cooper pumped an additional $81 million in local funds into schools, including a record $50 million increase for teacher pay.

What she's saying: "As more details emerge about [the Lee administration's] funding proposal, it appears that the second-largest school district in Tennessee, accounting for more than 8% of public school students, will receive less than 2% of the $750 million investment next year," Battle tells Axios.

  • "We hope that lawmakers and state officials will understand the disparity in this and find ways to ensure Nashville's students receive a fairer share of state revenues dedicated towards K-12 education."

The other side: Department of Education spokesperson Brian Blackley tells Axios that the existing funding formula unfairly benefits Nashville schools, providing MNPS with $22.7 million in 2022.

  • "That means every child in the state could have received $22.70 more in funding, but that money was diverted to fund MNPS' declining enrollment," Blackley says. "That's not fair, and we are changing that."
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