Coronavirus Cancels School Funding Rally

The Tennessee Education Association has cancelled a planned March 16th rally for school funding because of fears around the coronavirus (COVID-19). Here’s more from an email:

For more than 150 years, TEA leadership and staff have been committed to working in the best interest of Tennessee students and educators. It is for that reason that we have made the decision to cancel the Rally for Our Schools on Monday, March 16. In an abundance of caution for the health of educators, students and TEA staff, we cannot responsibly ask hundreds of public education advocates to gather together in Nashville as the coronavirus continues to spread across the state.

While the rally has been cancelled, the fight continues. It is more important than ever that we do not lose our momentum or focus on accomplishing our goal to increase state funding to the Southeast average. We are in a critical moment for the future of public education funding in our state. Our students and schools need a dramatic increase in state investment in public education. Please watch for communication from TEA in the coming days via email, print publications and social media for details on the next step in this fight and how you can be involved.

TEA will also be sharing information with members on how we can all support our fellow educators and students affected by the tornados in Middle Tennessee.

Sincerely,

Beth Brown, TEA President

Carolyn Crowder, TEA Executive Director

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Knox County’s Amy Frogge

Betty Bean has the story of an unlikely two-term winner on the Knox County School Board, Jennifer Owen.

Owen won re-election on Tuesday night by a large margin despite being outspent, reports Bean:


Sure, she had devoted volunteers and steady support from educators, but her opponent, John Meade, co-president of the Central High School Foundation, was rocking big ticket contributions from the top tier of the local GOP donor base and dispatching bales of direct mail to district mailboxes while Owen only sent out two mailers, one of which she paid for with $2,000 borrowed from her husband, Robert. Her only other large contribution was $2,500 from the K-PACE, the Knox County Education Association political action committee.

As Bean continues, she notes that Owen is known for speaking truth to power. She takes principled stands, even if they are sometimes unpopular. She’s not at all afraid to make the establishment uncomfortable. She asks tough questions. She’s unrelenting in her advocacy for public education.

Her story is not unlike that of Nashville’s Amy Frogge, now a two-term school board member. Frogge was outspent by large margins in both of her campaigns, and both times she won big. She challenges city leaders and state policymakers and she’s relentless.

Perhaps there’s a lesson in this for politicians everywhere: Stay true to your principles, fight hard, and do what’s right – even in the face of well-funded, polished interests who claim to be “for the kids.”

Whatever the case, Owen joins Frogge as someone who looks at the powerful interests in her way and nevertheless, persists.

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Senate Education Chair Not Seeking Re-Election

State Senator Dolores Gresham will not be seeking re-election this year, the AP reports:


Tennessee Republican state Sen. Dolores Gresham says she will not be seeking reelection this year.


The Somerville lawmaker made the announcement in an email this week to constituents in her 26th District.


Gresham served six years in the state House before she was elected to three four-year terms in the Senate. She became Education Committee chairwoman as a freshman senator.

Gresham’s leadership was a critical element in securing passage of Tennessee’s school voucher program. In fact, in litigation filed by the school systems in Nashville and Memphis, reference is made to Gresham’s captaining of the voucher bill from the Senate floor.


Amendment No. 1 did not apply to Sen. Gresham’s home county of Fayette County or to any of the other six counties in Sen. Gresham’s district, despite Fayette County having two out of seven schools (28.6%) on the 2017 bottom 10% list and one out of seven schools (14.3%) on the 2018 list of priority schools.

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Wilson County Voters Approve Funds for Teacher Pay Raise

Yesterday’s election provided good news for teachers in Wilson County, as voters there approved a sales tax increase with a portion of the proceeds from increased revenue dedicated to increasing teacher pay. The Lebanon Democrat has more:


The sales tax in Wilson County will be going to 9.75 percent from 9.25 percent after voters overwhelmingly gave their OK Tuesday.


The referendum passed 58% to 42%, according to complete yet unofficial results posted by Wilson County Elections Administrator Phillip Warren.

The vote came as the result of a decision by the Wilson County Commission to put the issue of where to find new revenue to fund teacher pay to voters.


The move comes as Wilson County is feeling the impact of the national teacher shortage, driven in part by low pay for educators. Additionally, new reports indicate teacher pay in Tennessee has actually fallen over the last decade when adjusted for inflation. Wilson County also suffers from a pay scale tied to teacher value-added scores.

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Comprehensive Review

A state organization tasked with providing research on the operations of state and local government has released a report suggesting Tennessee’s school funding formula, the BEP, needs at least $1.7 billion to adequately fund public education in the state. TACIR — The Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations — released “K-12 Education Funding and Services.” Here are some notes:

*   Report shows local governments spend at least $1.7 billion over BEP requirements.


 *   “Comparisons of BEP-funded to actual positions show that school systems often need to hire more staff than provided for by the formula” (Page 18)


 *   “In fiscal year 2018-19, the BEP funding formula generated a total of 62,888 licensed instructional positions, but school systems employed a total of 69,633 with state and local revenue.”

“Although the changes made in 1992 and since have resulted in substantial increases in funding to support the BEP, meeting local needs and the requirements imposed by the state and federal governments often requires more resources than the BEP funding formula alone provides. Consequently, state and local funding in fiscal year 2017-18 totaled $2.1 billion over and above what was required by the BEP formula, including a total of $1.7 billion in local revenue.”

“Given the ever evolving needs of communities in Tennessee and the likelihood that the BEP funding formula could better account for these needs, the Commission recommends that a comprehensive review of the components be made by the BEPRC or other designated state and local officials and other stakeholders to ensure that the BEP funding formula supports a commonly accepted basic level of education for Tennessee students.”

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.

Additionally, the $1.7 billion identified by TACIR is slightly more than the $1.5 billion targeted by a group of legislators seeking to bring the BEP up to a level of adequacy.

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