Axios Nashville

Picture of the Nashville skyline.
January 20, 2022

Good morning, folks! Welcome to Thursday.

  • Today's weather: A wintry mix fell in some parts of the area overnight. Drive with caution.

Situational awareness: Nashville public schools are canceled today because of the weather.

Today's newsletter is 910 words — a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: School funding question remains

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 yesterday released a report 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.

2. Metro won't track at-home COVID tests

An at-home COVID swab casting a shadow in the shape of a question mark.
Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

The Metro Department of Health does not plan to begin including at-home COVID test results in its log of case counts, a department spokesperson tells Axios.

  • The Biden administration yesterday began taking orders for free, at-home rapid tests sent to residents after announcing last week the purchase of 500 million test kits.

Why it matters: This decision could skew understanding of the virus' prevalence in Nashville.

Driving the news: Health spokesperson Brian Todd says the city will not count test results from at-home kits because "they do not meet confirmed or probable case definition."

  • "This is a national definition that we do not simply decide to opt into," Todd says. "These tests fit the (suspected) case definition but these cases are not counted in official case counts."

Yes, but: Other cities have a different approach. Axios D.C. reporter Cuneyt Dil reports that D.C. urges all residents who use a rapid test kit at home to report positive or negative results to an online portal.

  • But positive results from at-home tests are defined as "probable cases" and excluded from the city's daily case count. D.C. officials said the city doesn't have the same confidence in self-reported results compared to test results from a lab.

What's next: Residents can now order four rapid antigen test kits per household through the U.S. Postal Service website.

3. School board set to review Battle

Portrait of Metro Schools director Adrienne Battle.
Metro Schools director Adrienne Battle. Photo courtesy of MNPS

The Nashville school board failed to conduct a performance review last year for director Adrienne Battle.

  • Board chairperson Christiane Buggs tells Axios an evaluation is scheduled for this month, and the results will be discussed at a February board retreat.

Why it matters: According to board policy, the director is supposed to be reviewed annually. Hiring and assessing the director's performance has historically been a vital component of the board's work.

  • Battle was last reviewed in August 2020, five months after being hired for the full-time position. She had previously served as interim director since 2019.
  • That review, overseen by board member Rachael Ann Elrod, was more informal and did not apply numeric scores to Battle's performance.

Context: The school board appears to maintain firm support for Battle's leadership, so there's no indication a poor performance review is coming.

Yes, but: MNPS has experienced declining enrollment and lagging standardized test scores — two issues exacerbated by the pandemic.

  • Buggs and board member Sharon Gentry, who now oversees the review process, did not respond to questions about why there wasn't an evaluation last year.

4. The Setlist

Illustration of the windows of the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, doubling as a graphic equalizer.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

🏈 Will Derrick Henry play in the Titans' playoff game Saturday? "We'll see," Henry told reporters Wednesday. (The Tennessean)

💉 A federal judge ruled that Tennessee's former top vaccine official cannot pursue monetary damages from a lawsuit over her firing. (Tennessee Lookout)

There were 712 suspected drug deaths in Nashville last year. (Nashville Scene)

5. We will always love you

Dolly Parton on stage with her arms stretched out.
Photo by Jonathan Short/Invision/AP

We couldn't let the week pass us by without wishing the ultimate country queen and COVID research maven Dolly Parton a happy belated birthday.

🙏 Thanks to reader Lee J. for pointing out that we missed the milestone yesterday. We're begging of you please to forgive us.

To celebrate, our next Music Monday playlist will be all Dolly, all the time.

  • 📬 Reply and let us know your favorite Dolly deep cuts.

Nate is cheering on famous reporter and buddy Joey Garrison for repping Nashville so well when he works a White House press briefing.

Adam is listening to Dolly Parton, of course.