Labor groups, teachers address need for school funding
Lockeland Elementary School in Nashville. Metro Nashville Public Schools will get Title 1 funds for low-income students slashed, but got boosts from other funding sources. (Photo: John Partipilo)
With education being on the agenda of Tennessee lawmakers this year, organizations across the state are asking for increased funding for schools to counteract long standing issues complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Tuesday, educators, parents and labor organizations — Memphis For All, AFL-CIO, Stand Up Nashville, Nashville Organized for Action and Hope and Memphis Labor Council — held a press conference to discuss the challenges facing the state’s public school systems, given that Tennessee ranks 46 out of 50 nationally in the amount invested in each student.
Tennessee uses the Basic Education Program (BEP) as the funding formula to decide how state education funds are distributed to schools, but lawmakers on both sides of the political spectrum are seeking to overhaul the 30-year-old BEP formula.
While lawmakers siding with Gov. Bill Lee sought to shift the program to a “student-based” formula, critics believe Lee is making attempts to shift state funds to provide subsidies for parents seeking to send children to private institutions.
Metro Nashville Public Schools, Shelby County Schools districts and 80 other districts are currently involved in a lawsuit against the state over the BEP and argue that the state doesn’t provide enough money to meet the needs of their students, many of whom live in poverty.
The Metro Nashville Education Association surveyed 1,413 people in three languages to gauge public opinion on issues being brought up in the Legislature this month.
Without sufficient pay and with increased risks due to COVID, many of my fellow co-workers were forced to leave positions and students that they loved in serach of livable wages.
– Esi Akyere Mali Arthur Snodgrass, Metro Nashville Public Schools teacher
Notably, 98.2% did not agree with using public funds for private school facilities, 95.6% did not support giving public subsidies to families who could afford to send children to private schools and 8% said school facilities were adequately maintained.
Another 58% said education would affect how they vote for future elections.
“Right now, we really are at a crossroads in terms of what we, the state of Tennessee, as the people who make up the state, will do about this situation,” said the Rev. Francisico Garcia, assistant chaplain at Vanderbilt University’s St. Augustine’s Episcopal Chapel and a host of the press conference.
Other speakers talked about fears that school districts across the state could face severe school faculty shortages as employees face burnout and insufficient pay.
Amanda Mgbodille, parent and substitute teacher at May Werthan Shayne Elementary School, a Nashville school, said that although teachers received a pay raise, other school faculty members are not receiving livable wages, adding that she and her family would not be able to survive on her salary alone.
“Here at my school, we definitely have staffing issues,” she said.
Another teacher said that “nearly all supply needs come out of my own pocket,” and that BEP funds were only covering a small fraction of supplies needed for instruction.
“These kinds of factors, class sizes and lack of funds, really make it difficult to meet every student’s needs,” said Julie Trudel.
With a lack of educational funding and livable wages for school faculty, labor organizations say qualified workers will leave school districts in droves and school systems will be unable to provide adequate support systems for students, such as socio-emotional learning for students facing COVID-related trauma.
“Without sufficient pay and with increased risks due to COVID, many of my fellow co-workers were forced to leave positions and students that they loved in search of livable wages,” said Esi Akyere Mali Arthur Snodgrass, an educator for Metro Nashville Public Schools.
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