Last night, Gov. Bill Lee delivered his State of the State Address and revealed at least some details related to school funding formula reform. Of note is the promise to increase state investment in public schools by $1 billion effective in the 2024 fiscal year and contingent on a new funding formula. This year, teachers will see $125 million in new money for salaries, which equates to a roughly 5% pay raise – or, at least a 5% increase in what is provided to local government for teacher compensation. Effectively, this will result in a salary increase of 2-3%.
$1 billion in new money is long overdue. It’s also about half of what the state needs to adequately fund public schools. Depending on how it is distributed in any new formula, it could amount to little in terms of significant improvement. Then again, it very well could be the start of something positive. Those who watch Tennessee education policy over time (like me) are likely skeptical. As always, the devil is in the details.
In fact, Tennessee Education Association President Beth Brown issued a statement on the proposal:
“Any increase in K12 spending is a step in the right direction. TEA is eager to see more details on the $1 billion in new recurring spending on public education Gov. Lee announced in his State of the State address. It is a needed and warranted increase, but we do not yet see that reflected in the budget document released today.
Our students and educators are struggling right now because of a lack of resources. State leaders must stop stuffing cash into mattresses while students go without materials and programs they need for a quality education and underpaid educators are asked to do the job of six people while also buying their own classroom supplies.
It does not have to be this way and we are hopeful the governor’s remarks tonight indicate a shift from the chronic underfunding that has plagued public education in our state. Tennessee can afford a significant increase in recurring investment in our students, educators and public schools immediately, without raising taxes.”
If the $1 billion does materialize, it should be noted that not only is it significantly less than what is needed, but also that our state has the funds ($3 billion+ surplus) to fully close the funding gap. That Lee is not proposing $2 billion in more in funding when that money is absolutely available may well indicate that our state will continue its historic pattern of underfunded public schools.
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