The State of Tennessee now has a court date to face allegations of inadequate school funding. The lawsuit, originally filed by school systems in Nashville and Memphis, has been joined by Tennessee School Systems for Equity, a group representing smaller systems around the state. The suit alleges that as it currently stands, the state’s school funding formula (BEP) does not provide sufficient funding for the operation of schools.
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The outcome of the school funding trial could have major implications for K-12 education and, if successful, force Tennessee to invest significantly more money in public schools in a state that ranks 46th in the nation in student funding. Schools in lower-income areas and students who live in poverty, have disabilities, or are learning to speak English as a second language would be most affected.
It’s not clear how long the case will last or if the General Assembly will take any corrective action prior to the outcome. While the state has a significant surplus, Gov. Lee and the General Assembly have been reluctant to invest in schools.
The adequacy issue has been discussed for a number of years. Most recently, the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) has suggested the state underfunds schools by $1.7 billion.
How did we get such a large deficit? We have a funding formula that is not based in reality. That is, the formula fails to account for the staffing needs of schools.
The TACIR report, showing a gap of nearly 7000 teachers, comes on the heels of a Tennessee Department of Education report indicating a “teacher gap” of 9000.
Given the state’s huge budget surplus, lawmakers could choose to adequately fund schools without raising anyone’s taxes. So far, they’ve not made that choice.
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