Gov. Bill Lee and the Tennessee Department of Education have released their first look at a new framework for education funding in the state. They’ve asked for public comment by Jan. 18, with a goal of releasing the final plan by Jan. 24.

“I want to personally thank the Tennessee parents, teachers, students and citizens who have engaged in this important discussion about our state’s education funding, and to encourage all Tennesseans who want to get involved to send their public comments on this latest draft,” said Gov. Bill Lee in a press release Tuesday.  “As we plan for the future of Tennessee, this process will continue to ensure we’re listening to the people of the state and improving how we invest resources to set our students up for success.” 

The announcement follows about three months of public review and engagement. The process included the formation of 18 subcommittees, a series of town hall meetings across the state, and public comments submitted. 

The report did not provide an estimated cost of the framework.

"People know what they want for public school funding, and we are thrilled so many Tennesseans have participated in this process and see what this will mean for students," said Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “We know this cannot just be about a funding formula in isolation, but about what funding can do to accelerate achievement for our students, ensure they have access to a high-quality education, and set them up for success after high school."  

Under the proposal, schools would receive per-pupil funding that includes a base amount funded under the existing Basic Education Program, including teacher salaries, technology needs, academic intervention, and district-specific needs.

The amount per student would be weighted for students with special needs, including economically disadvantaged students, students in rural areas, students with unique learning needs (including special education, English language learners and gifted students) and students attending charter schools. The highest weight would be for students living in poverty and concentrated poverty and the lightest weight to charter schools. Weights for students with unique learning needs would depend on specific student needs.

School systems could receive additional direct funding if they see a large influx of students, to provide tutoring serves for fourth-grade students, and to fund career and technical education programs.

The new plan would also provide a per-student bonus for school systems that meet certain criteria, including literacy benchmarks, Ready Grad indicators, completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, participation in work-based learning and apprenticeship programs and having students complete a series in a specific career cluster in career and technical education.

Subcommittees have also identified other priorities, including lower class sizes in younger grades, career coaches for middle school students, and higher teacher salaries. The report notes almost every subcommittee requested or recommended a universal pre-kindergarten program with sustained funding.

The report also calls for stronger fiscal reporting, including an annual report, school-level per-pupil spending, and detailed information on how funds were used.

The report notes, “While a state education funding formula is a funding plan and not a spending plan, it is important that the Tennessee General Assembly and public have clarity and transparency in how those dollars were used, in alignment with student growth.”

The public is invited to comment on the proposal, with comments due by noon Jan. 18. Comments can be emailed to tnedu.funding@tn.gov.

Heather Mullinix is editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.

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