While the State of Tennessee has a surplus in excess of $3 billion, state Senator John Stevens seems to want to shift more of the burden of public education to local governments – possibly resulting in local property tax increases.

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.”

First, let’s address the “skin in the game” argument by noting that for many districts, the state picks up just under half the cost of public education. In fact, the inadequacy of state funding is why Tennessee is facing a lawsuit over the BEP formula.

Second, there’s this thing called “maintenance of effort.” That’s the idea that local governments are not allowed to decrease their contribution to schools just because of an influx of state dollars. In other words, current law already requires that locals keep some “skin in the game.”

Finally, the BEP formula generates a required local match – locals MUST contribute according to the formula OR they risk losing a portion of their state share. Again, the current formula already addresses the issue Stevens is raising.

Then, of course, there’s the mistaken idea that Tennessee schools already have enough money. A bipartisan group of state and local policymakers form an entity known as TACIR – Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations. That bipartisan group issued a report suggesting Tennessee underfunds schools by $1.7 billion.

So, yeah, local governments want to hire more people for schools. Just like TACIR says they should. Does Stevens think his fellow lawmakers on the Commission got it wrong? Should local governments be asked to raise property taxes to cover the state’s shortfall? Should a state with a surplus in excess of $3 billion hold onto the cash while local property owners see their taxes raised?

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

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