That’s how much Tennessee is under-funding public schools. Senators Jeff Yarbro of Nashville and Raumesh Akbari of Memphis take on the issue of school funding in a recent OpEd in the Tennessean. Here’s some of their argument:
The “fully funded” story line falls apart every time a teacher digs into their own bank account to purchase essential school supplies for their students. The claim unravels when teachers work second or even third jobs just to make ends meet. When we see children and teachers stacked into mobile trailers, describing schools as fully funded amounts to gaslighting.
Here’s the truth: The state needs to put at least $1.5 billion more into public education each year just to meet the bare minimum. And even that investment may not be enough to get out of the bottom 10 states for school funding.
Their article follows a report from the Department of Education indicating that Tennessee is severely underfunding teaching positions in our state — to the tune of at least $500 million.
The article notes that Tennessee has had significant revenue surpluses in recent years. This means the state CAN fund public schools at an adequate level without raising state taxes. In fact, proper state funding of schools would mean local governments could keep taxes low. It would also relieve the burden that hits poorer districts the hardest.
Here are some likely responses:
- The state just can’t promise that level of funding year after year
- We need to try new experiments like expanding charters and moving forward with vouchers
- Districts simply can’t absorb ALL that money at once
- Our tax policy is critical to our business climate, so that comes first
- We’re already getting results, why do we need more money?
- We can’t just throw money at schools (we’d rather throw it at Amazon)
And here’s the reality: Tennessee consistently receives an “F” in both school funding and funding effort. We’re not even trying.
Yes, we have the money. Yes, our schools deserve it. Yes, WE CAN FUND SCHOOLS!
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport