Throw Some Damn Money at the Problem

While Tennessee lawmakers are expressing concern over investing too much money in schools, one educator is practically begging Gov. Bill Lee to just throw wads of cash at teachers.

Former teacher Gabe Hart has a column in Tennessee Lookout that expresses his frustration at the current situation as it relates to teacher pay in Tennessee.

Here’s a bit of what he has to say relative to teacher salaries:

In December, in an attempt to recruit more corrections officers, Lee gave new officers a 37% raise which put the starting salary for a TDOC officer at $44,500.  First year teachers in Metro Nashville Public Schools will make $46,000 during their first year, and MNPS is one of the highest paying districts in the state.  First year teachers in Madison County make $38,000. The average first year teacher makes around $40,000 — almost $5,000 less than a first year corrections officer.  

I am fully aware that there are far more teachers in the state than corrections officers, and the funding comparison is apples and oranges.  Where I can push back, though, is that Tennessee has always been ranked between 44th-46th in the country when it comes to education funding, and since Lee became governor in 2019, he’s pushed for Educational Savings Accounts — aka vouchers — that would pull even more money from public schools.  

Hart’s piece comes as districts across the state are experiencing a teacher shortage crisis.

So, while community groups are pushing for greater investment in schools and teachers are literally begging to have money thrown at them, lawmakers are out there expressing concern about putting too much money into schools.

First, there’s House Speaker Cameron Sexton, who recently indicated that money was not the problem facing Tennessee schools:

“So I think when you look at the school systems, at the end, it’s not usually about the money. If you’re not successful, money doesn’t solve your problem.

Never mind that Tennessee consistently ranks between 44th-46th in investment in public schools.

Then, there’s state Senator John Stevens, who serves on one of the committees exploring changes to the BEP. He’s worried that local school systems will receive a “windfall” from a new BEP formula:

The Center Square reports that Stevens is concerned about how locals will spend what he calls a “windfall” of new state money.

Stevens, like others, is concerned that local governments pay their portion along with the state, which budgeted to spend $5.6 billion in state funding on K-12 public education this fiscal year.

Stevens suggested the state should give less state sales tax money to local governments that do not properly support education with a funding match.

“I’m not just going to give the locals a windfall by absorbing the costs that they’re supposed to pay for without them having some skin in the game,” Stevens said. “Because all the schools want to do is hire more people.”

Umm, what??

So, at this point, I’m going to again note our state has a surplus in excess of $3 billion.

Tennessee has tried a lot of education experiments in the last couple of decades. One experiment the state hasn’t tried? Actually investing large amounts of money in schools!

Just throw some damn money at the problem.

Photo by Pepi Stojanovski on Unsplash

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

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