Tennessee releases draft new school funding formula for public review

  • The draft framework comes as lawmakers began a new legislative session on Tuesday.
  • Governor Bill Lee said it was “very possible” to come up with a new formula for lawmakers.
  • The state is now seeking public comment on the framework until Jan. 18.
  • To comment, email the Tennessee Department of Education at [email protected]

A potential new school funding formula would provide additional funding for low-income students, rural students, English learners, students with disabilities and charter schools, according to a draft framework released by the Department of Education. Tennessee Education Tuesday night.

The bill came the same day lawmakers gathered in Nashville for the start of this year’s legislative session. The state is now seeking public comment on the framework until Jan. 18 – a four-day extension to the initial public comment period.

State officials say the framework is based on inputs from a multi-month public comment and committee process launched in October. Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn thanked the people of Tennessee for their participation.

“We know this is not just an isolated funding formula, but what funding can do to accelerate the success of our students, ensure they have access to high quality education and prepare to succeed after high school, ”Schwinn said in a statement.

The current funding formula:What you need to know about the Tennessee school funding formula – and plans to change it

Governor Bill Lee and Schwinn launched a 90-day review of the state’s current funding formula in October, with the goal of creating a new student-centered funding formula.

In late December, Lee said it was “very possible” he could push through legislation on the new funding formula in the next legislative session, which began on Tuesday.

“We have a lot of work to do, even over the next three weeks, but we’ve done a lot of work over the past 90 days,” Lee said at the time.

The draft proposal allocates additional funds to specific groups of students

The framework, currently dubbed “Student Success Funding, would include funding “for all services and supports for K-12 public schools that are currently funded” by the Basic Education Program – which includes 46 items grouped into four main categories.

Core funding under the new framework would include money for salaries for educators, nurses, counselors and student supports, intervention resources and technology, as well as various district-specific needs.

Districts would also receive additional dollars for specific subgroups of students who are sometimes more difficult or costly to educate, such as students living in poverty, English learners and students with disabilities, or students eligible for grants. shots of section 504 against dyslexia.

A fourth funding area, or weight, would allocate additional funds to charter schools, affecting about 42,000 of the state’s nearly one million public school students.

“This weight of funding would ensure that when a charter school uses a school facility owned by the local school district and incurs all rents as well as maintenance and improvement costs to provide school facilities to their students, additional funding will be available to support classroom services and resources for students, ”according to the draft framework released Tuesday night.

The project indicates that the amount of funding or the focus on each of these weights would vary, with the focus on providing additional funding to students in poverty and a lighter focus on charter school students. .

The state would also allocate additional funds to tutoring programs, vocational and technical education programs and districts considered to be “fast growing”.

The draft framework includes a “results section” that would provide a per-student bonus for performance – something some lawmakers, including House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, have been pushing for in recent months.

No commitment yet for a substantial increase in funding

The project does not include funding amounts. Some critics of the governor‘s review process have argued that a new formula without additional funding would not adequately meet the needs of schools, although lawmakers have said there is an appetite on both sides of the coin. gone to revamp the state formula.

In fiscal year 2021-2022, the state is on track to spend at least $ 5.6 billion in state dollars on K-12 education, although this figure does not include funding federal and local for education K-12. The amount the state spends is among the lowest in the nation.

Lee maintained that education funding increased every year during his tenure, although school leaders and some Democratic leaders say that was not enough. A multi-year lawsuit challenging the state’s funding formula has been delayed until after the legislative session in light of the current funding review.

Some have also questioned the rationale for a “student-centered” funding formula, fearing that it would leave the door open for a new attempt to introduce school vouchers or other means by which families could use public money to send their children to a private school.

How did we get here?

The project comes as organizations across the state continue to hold talks on reforming the way the state funds K-12 schools.

Dozens of Tennesseans weighed in at state-sponsored town halls last fall, and the department received hundreds of emails containing public comments.

Despite varying priorities depending on the communities, a few themes emerged.

Increasing the state’s share of the prize pool and providing additional funding to staff in school counselors, behavioral interventions, school nurses and other student support roles dominated conversations at town halls. Hendersonville to Pulaski and from Memphis to Greeneville.

Above all, the desire to meet the specific needs of students who might cost more to educate, such as students with disabilities, learners of English or students from economically disadvantaged communities, has emerged as a priority.

Dozens of education groups and other state organizations also intervened.

Schwinn hinted at the end of December that she hoped to have a framework for the new funding strategy developed by mid-January for the 18 departmental subcommittees formed to lead the review process for consideration before a possible presentation to the. legislators.

Many subcommittees are still working with mountains of public comment and have meetings scheduled for the coming weeks.

The second meeting of the steering committee, appointed to oversee the process, is scheduled for Thursday.

Members of the public are encouraged to send their comments on the project to [email protected] More information on the state funding formula review process is available at www.tn.gov/education/tnedufunding.

Members of the subcommittees are expected to finalize the formula recommendations in the coming weeks, which will be provided to Lee for consideration, according to a press release Tuesday evening.

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Meghan Mangrum is covering education for the USA TODAY – Tennessee Network. Contact her at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.