A Metro Nashville Public Schools bus. (Photo: John Partipilo)
In the midst of an initiative to change the state’s K-12 funding formula, Gov. Bill Lee said Friday he plans to boost spending for public schools next fiscal year.
Tennessee is spending $6.9 billion on K-12 education this year, $5.6 billion in state funds and $1.14 billion from the federal government. The state has spent more annually since Lee took office three years ago and will do so again in fiscal 2022-23, the governor told reporters Friday after speaking to the Gallatin Chamber of Commerce.
“The budget’s not finalized yet. But we know that we need to invest more in public education and particularly our public education system,” Lee said.
Some lawmakers say more money needs to be injected into the school districts in order to draw broad support from the Legislature to pass a proposal to change the K-12 funding formula. Democratic legislative leaders contend the state needs to spend $2 billion more with Tennessee sitting at 45th nationally in education spending.
The Department of Education, which has been holding town hall meetings statewide since October and meeting with 18 subcommittees, released a draft structure this week to change the funding formula. The Basic Education Program formula is based on some 45 factors.
Lee’s administration says the formula needs to be changed from a “resource-based” system that focuses on the broad needs of school districts to one that concentrates on a “student-based” system focusing on the needs of individual children within some 130 districts.
The draft touches on a wide range of factors ranging from urban and low-income students to rural and disabled to gifted children. It also has incentive factors for high-performing districts and students while at the same time taking into consideration the economic levels of children.
Lee pointed out Friday the 18 subcommittees aren’t finished with their work, after taking input from hundreds of people within school districts, in addition to officials and the general public.
“I think we have a good target on a good structure,” Lee said. “We proposed this draft so people can continue to take a good look at it. We’ll see where this goes.”
Whether he can garner the legislative will to pass legislation remains to be seen, though, especially with key Republican senators saying this week they believe a new formula needs more study before it can be approved during the 2022 session.
The governor said he hopes to keep gathering input to determine whether an agreement can be reached to move forward with a new formula.
“I’m certainly hopeful that we can,” he said. “It’s time, 30 years, same funding formula and looked at by two previous governors. It’s certainly time to work hard to get it done. Our kids deserve it, our teachers deserve it, our public education system deserves it.”
Arguments made in a court fight over the Basic Education Program are likely to be taken into consideration as a new formula takes form. Metro Nashville Public Schools and Shelby County Schools filed suit against the state, claiming the BEP fails to provide enough funds to meet the needs of a large number of low-income children. More than 80 districts joined in the lawsuit, and arguments are pending before the Tennessee Supreme Court.
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