With the first look at Gov. Bill Lee’s proposed public education funding formula, one question comes to mind: how much?

How much will it take to fully implement this formula?

How much is the state willing to invest in its students?

How much is Tennessee willing to pay its teachers?

The basic framework proposed appears to keep much of the current Basic Education Program funding, with funding for teachers, technology, academic intervention, administrators and counselors.

Currently, schools are funded based on their average daily maintenance, the number of students enrolled in a school system. The new framework talks about making the funding student-based. So it would still be based on the number of students enrolled. 

But unlike the present BEP, the new formula would consider the unique needs of students, including students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, English language learners, students with disabilities, and students living in rural areas. It would also provide additional weight to students attending charter schools, which are public schools mostly found in the more urban areas of the state.

It does not include funding for private schools. While some legislators are floating ideas of vouchers that would allow parents to remove their children from public schools and take those state funds to a private school, that’s not addressed in the report.

The new plan would also offer a performance bonus to schools meeting certain measures of success. Details on what would be considered “successful” were not part of the report, but it includes items already part of school accountability reporting, like how many graduates leave high school as “Ready Graduates.” Ready Graduates considers items like ACT scores, completing a series of career and technical education classes, earning an industry certification, completing early-postsecondary educational opportunities like dual credit or Advanced Placement courses.

Members of subcommittees also recommended the state look at other items that could improve student success, like universal pre-kindergarten programs or smaller class sizes in lower grades.

The framework sounds promising, but if it doesn’t come with more money, it doesn’t matter how the state cuts its education funding pie. There still won’t be enough money to meet the needs of our schools in Cumberland County or across the state.

For all the talk of the “outdated” BEP funding model, the fact is that it’s never been adequately funded. It undershot school needs in staffing, technology, facilities. Because schools have to meet strict rules on teacher staffing and class size, almost every school district hires more teachers to serve their students than the BEP says they need.

Even before the pandemic, schools understood the importance of having medical professionals in the building. They hired school nurses even though the BEP only provided funding for one nurse for every 3,500 students.

No, money is not the deciding factor in student success. But it sure does help ensure schools have the staffing and resources they need to help students succeed.

Crossville Chronicle

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