Show Us the Money

WSMV reports state revenues came in at $108 million above projections in September:

Corporate franchise and exercise taxes came in at $76 million more than expectations in the month, which reflects economic activity in August. Sales taxes collections were $24 million higher than the amount budgeted for the month and reflect a 4.5 percent growth rate compared with the same year-ago period.

The surplus from September alone would be enough for the state to add 3500 teachers using the current funding formula. That’s 25% of the total needed to properly fund our state’s schools according to a recent report from the Comptroller’s office.

The report indicated:

The state is considerably underestimating the number of educators needed to run Tennessee schools according to its own requirements, says a state comptroller’s report released Wednesday.
And local governments are paying the difference. Statewide, districts employ about 12,700 more educators than the state funds, according to the comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability, or OREA.

We are now in our third consecutive year of revenue growth well above projections. It’s time for the state to step up and invest in schools. Three more months with surpluses like September would provide enough revenue ($400 million) for the state to adequately fund teaching positions through the BEP. And don’t forget, we have more than $900 million in surplus funds from the budget year that ended on June 30th.

The money is there. Will it be invested in our schools?

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


 

 

That’ll Be $400 Million

The Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability is out with a new report that suggests Tennessee is underfunding its schools by at least $400 million. That’s because the BEP (the state’s funding formula for schools) fails to adequately fund education personnel.

Grace Tatter has more:

The state is considerably underestimating the number of educators needed to run Tennessee schools according to its own requirements, says a state comptroller’s report released Wednesday.
And local governments are paying the difference. Statewide, districts employ about 12,700 more educators than the state funds, according to the comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability, or OREA.

Back in March, I wrote about this, and estimated the state was underfunding teachers by about 15%:

If districts only hired the BEP number of teachers, they could reduce local costs, but they’d also likely have some pretty unhappy parents on their hands. So, yes, the Governor’s proposed changes do direct additional funds to districts. But the changes do not address the underlying problem with the BEP. Doing so would cost another $250 to $300 million. That would be the cost of adjusting the ratios by 10-15% for teachers. That’s not to mention nurses, counselors, and other positions. And it doesn’t include capital funding.

Turns out, I underestimated the problem. The real number is around 22%, as Tatter notes:

The median percentage of additional teachers funded with local money was 22 percent. That translated to 686 more teachers in Knox County and 499 more in Rutherford County in 2014-15.

So, what does this mean? It means the state is underfunding local districts by about $394 million. That’s because the updated BEP formula funds teachers at $44,430 per unit. The state pays 70% of this cost.

That doesn’t include the cost of insurance for the additional 12,700 teachers. Nor does it include a salary adjustment to begin making up for the teacher wage gap. That cost is about $500 million.

So, to add proper state funding for needed teachers and provide adequate salaries, we’d need $894 million.

Then, there are the additional priorities identified by the BEP Review Committee. These priorities include providing teachers and schools the resources they need to adequately educate Tennessee’s students.

If your local property taxes have gone up recently to cover the cost of schools, you can blame the state for shorting our state’s school districts by nearly $900 million.

Incidentally, our state has a $925 million surplus — we could invest every dime of that into schools, meet the current need, and not raise state taxes one cent. Oh, and doing so would both improve public education and keep your local property taxes low.

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


 

 

 

Tennessee Ranks 33rd in Climate for Teachers

WalletHub is out with a ranking of Best and Worst states for teachers based on factors including salary and work environment. Here’s how they describe their methodology:

In order to identify the teacher-friendliest states in the U.S., WalletHub’s analysts compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across two key dimensions, including “Job Opportunity & Competition” and “Academic & Work Environment.” Because competitive salaries and job security are integral to a well-balanced personal and professional life, we assigned a heavier weight to the first category.

Tennessee received an overall rating of 33, about in the middle for neighboring states. Our neighbors in Virginia and Kentucky come in at 6th and 15th, respectively, while Mississippi is ranked 47th.

See the full map:

 

Source: WalletHub

WalletHub notes:

Most educators don’t pursue their profession for the money. Despite their critical role in shaping young minds, teachers across the U.S. are shortchanged every year. In fact, education jobs are some of the lowest-paying occupations that require a bachelor’s degree, and their salaries consistently fail to keep up with inflation.

Tennessee should aspire to be among the best in our region, and we have the resources to make it happen — including a $925 million surplus for the recently-ended fiscal year. Using this surplus to close the teacher wage gap would improve our rankings and improve the quality of life for teachers. Additionally, the state would do well to heed the priorities outlined by the BEP Review Committee.

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


 

MNPS Funding Suit DENIED

Jason Gonzales reports:

A judge has denied a request from Metro Nashville Public Schools asking the courts to command Tennessee to fully provide education funding to local school districts.

The district’s petition, filed Sept. 1, contends that the state’s constitution requires the Tennessee General Assembly to fully fund education in the state under its Basic Education Program. Commonly known as the BEP, it’s the formula the state uses to calculate how much it costs to educate an individual student in Tennessee.

Apparently agreeing with the state’s attorneys who said:

In its response to Nashville’s petition, the state says Nashville should follow the other districts in asking the court to address their right to education funding, rather than for a direct order to pay more money. “(Nashville) seeks a writ of mandamus that would require the General Assembly to provide funding to ELL teachers and translators in the ratios provided in (Tennessee Code),” the response reads. “… However, (Nashville) is not entitled to that writ.”

Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle’s order says:

While the state has been sued for proper education funding, those cases didn’t request the courts force the state to immediately appropriate funds, Lyle said in the court papers. Therefore, Lyle said there is no law to enforce.

“Such law must first be adjudicated before the writ can issue,” Lyle said.

In short, until a decision is rendered on the adequacy of the formula, the state can’t be compelled to fund the formula. Lawsuits filed by Shelby County and Hamilton County both claim the state’s funding formula is inadequate and seek a judgment based on that claim. Those cases are still moving forward.

More on School Funding:

Haslam on Tennessee School Funding History

Just Kidding

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


 

 

Haslam: Haters Gonna Hate

Governor Bill Haslam this week lamented school funding lawsuits while also admitting that Tennessee has a history of under-funding schools.

From the Tennessean:

“Now if you’re an educator saying, ‘Well, you’re not putting enough money in’ … you’re right, as a state we historically have not put enough money — but we’re changing that,” Haslam said.

When asked about pending lawsuits claiming the state is failing to live up to its responsibility in terms of school funding, Haslam said:

Asked about the validity of the school funding suits as a result, Haslam said, “obviously anyone can sue over anything they want.”

“But it’s kind of strange when we’re making historic investments in K-12 education, it feels like it sends the wrong message to do that,” he said.

Haslam doesn’t seem to understand why supporters of public education may doubt his commitment. Here are three reasons:

1) Haslam promised in 2013 to make Tennessee the “fastest improving state in teacher salaries.” By April of the next year, the promise was gone. Additionally, the BEP Review Committee noted in its 2015 report that weighted average salaries in 2015 were lower than in 2013 as a result of the Haslam-Huffman elimination of the state minimum salary schedule. At the same time, the gap in pay among the highest-paying and lowest-paying districts in the state remains at an unacceptable 40%. Meanwhile, Tennessee suffers from one of the largest teacher wage gaps — that is, the gap between salaries paid to teachers and salaries paid to professionals with similar educational preparation.

2) In response to a lawsuit from Metro Nashville Public Schools, the state’s attorneys have said the state is not bound to follow the school funding formula Governor Haslam proposed and the General Assembly adopted. Grace Tatter reported the state’s response:

Attorneys for the state say Tennessee isn’t obligated to follow through with its own spending plan — and that Nashville doesn’t have the grounds to seek the order in the first place.

3) The state has a $925 million surplus as of the close of the 2015-16 fiscal year. That’s enough money to fully close the teacher wage gap and still leave more than $400 million for funding other important state projects. A more conservative approach would at the least meet the state’s funding obligations under the revised BEP formula, as Nashville is demanding in its lawsuit. From there, the state could phase-in further investment and do so without increasing taxes one cent. The current surplus comes after a year in which the state’s surplus topped $1 billion. During that budget year, Haslam and the General Assembly failed to adopt a salary proposal that would have provided teachers and state employees raises if revenues exceeded projections. They did, of course.

So, while Haslam is saying the right things and while there has been some investment in schools in recent years, it’s not hard to guess why school districts are filing lawsuits to get the money they need. Bill Haslam is right. Tennessee has historically under-funded schools. But he’s leaving out an important point. The only thing that seems to get the attention of the state-level policymakers — and get money into schools — is a court order.

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


 

Just Kidding

The Tennessee General Assembly this year approved changes to the state’s school funding formula (the BEP) and at the same time, refused to appropriate sufficient funds to pay for the changes.

As a result of this refusal, MNPS is suing the state and demanding full funding of the formula.

The state’s response is pretty remarkable. State lawyers maintain that even though new funding ratios are now state law, the state doesn’t have to follow this law.

Grace Tatter reports:

Metro Nashville Public Schools, which serves about a third of the state’s ELL population, is seeking a court order demanding that the state provide the district with funds promised under its recently revised funding formula known as the Basic Education Program, or BEP.

State lawmakers voted this year to increase ELL funding based on a 1:20 student-teacher ratio instead of the previous 1:30 ration, but only provided Nashville with money for a 1:25 ratio. That’s about $4 million short of what was promised this school year, say Nashville school leaders.

Attorneys for the state say Tennessee isn’t obligated to follow through with its own spending plan — and that Nashville doesn’t have the grounds to seek the order in the first place.

The state doesn’t have to follow through with its own spending plan? Then why even have a spending plan? The state adopted a new funding formula and put new funding ratios into Tennessee Code. But now the state is saying they don’t actually have to follow the laws they passed.

Perhaps what’s most frustrating about this entire situation is that Tennessee has a $925 million budget surplus this year. That’s following a $1 billion surplus last year.

Yes, we have the money to fully fund the formula. Instead, lawyers are now arguing that policymakers are not obligated to follow a formula they proposed and adopted. That’s a pretty strange defense.

The legislature could have phased-in the ratios. Or adopted different, more “affordable” ratios. But they didn’t. Now, the state doesn’t want to be held accountable for meeting the ratios Governor Haslam suggested and the General Assembly adopted. What other laws does the state view as mere suggestions?

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


 

MNPS Sues The State

MNPS has now officially filed a lawsuit against the state of Tennessee in regards to underfunding for English language learners.

The petition, which was filed Thursday, comes after the school board voted to sue in June and a recent letter that 30 Metro Council members signed in favor of the lawsuit.

Amanda Haggard at the Nashville Scene:

The lawsuit argues that the state should follow code, which outlines that “funding shall be provided by the state at a ratio of 1:20 for teachers and 1:200 for translators.”

Currently the state is only funding ELL at an estimated ratio of 1:25 for teachers and 1:250 for translators.

Before the lawsuit was filed, the state agreed about the code and ratio, but referred Metro Legal to another section of the code, which says “the changes in components or factors of the BEP implemented by this at shall be implemented in accordance with funding as made available through the general appropriations act.”

In response to the lawsuit, Nashville Mayor Barry commended the school board.

I commend our School Board for seeking to use every tool available to them to ensure that our teachers have enough resources to provide a world-class education for our students. We have the opportunity to be a leader in the nation for providing high-quality ELL services for our students, but we need to ensure that the State of Tennessee is providing Davidson County with our fair share of tax dollars as required by law.

You can read the lawsuit here.

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


 

 

Priority Mail

The BEP Review Committee, the state body tasked with annually reviewing school funding in Tennessee and making recommendations for improvement, decided in late July to send a letter to the Governor and other key state leaders outlining priorities for future education funding.

Here’s what the committee’s minutes say about this letter:

The committee resolved with no dissenting votes to send a letter to the Governor, the Commissioner of Finance and Administration and the Commissioner of Education outlining the five priorities of the committee for funding.

The five priorities, in order:

1. Sustained commitment to teacher compensation

2. English Language Learner funding (to bring ratios closer to the level called for in the BEP Enhancement Act of 2016)

3. Funding the number of guidance counselors at a level closer to national best practices

4. Funding Response to Instruction and Intervention positions

5. Sustained technology funding

Teacher compensation has been a big issue in the last few years. From Governor Haslam’s broken promise back in 2014 to consecutive years of salary increases included in the Governor’s budget and passed by the General Assembly.

In spite of all this, Tennessee still faces a significant teacher wage gap. That is, teachers are paid about 30% less than other similarly-educated professionals. The good news is the state now has a $925 million surplus, a portion of which could be used to help close the teacher wage gap. Doing this would also meet another long-term goal of the BEP review committee: Providing districts with teacher compensation that more closely matches the actual cost of hiring a teacher. The projected cost of this, according to the 2014 BEP Review Committee Report, is around $500 million.

This is the Committee’s #1 priority. They’ve told the Governor and others it matters. A lot. And Tennessee has the money to make a serious investment in teacher compensation in 2017 and beyond.

The second goal is better funding for English Language Learners in order to improve the ratio of ELL instructors to students. The cost of full implementation of the desired ratio is around $30 million. That’s also doable given the current budget situation.

Next, the BEP Review Committee wants an added commitment to guidance counselors. Fully funding this request would cost nearly $60 million.

A little further down the list is funding for dedicated RTI2 positions. It’s not clear what this could cost, but it’s pretty important because the unfunded RTI2 mandate is a significant part of the lawsuit filed by some school districts against the state charging the current funding formula is inadequate.

Finally, there’s technology. It’s pretty clear that despite recent investments, districts across the state would benefit from significant state investment in technology. That’s one thing the preparation for the failed TNReady test made abundantly clear.

It’s good to be able to prioritize our state’s education investments. Even policy idealists know we can’t do it all at once. The good news is, there’s money available to make meaningful investment and get pretty far down this list. It’s a multi-year project, to be sure. But it’s advice the Governor and others should heed.

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


 

Now 4=3

Readers may remember that last year, after Governor Bill Haslam and the Tennessee General Assembly provided funds equivalent to a four percent increase in the BEP salary allocation, the State Board of Education accepted Commissioner Candice McQueen’s recommendation to increase the state’s salary schedule by two percent.

As McQueen wrote at the time:

We believe this proposal strikes the right balance between maximum flexibility for school districts and the recognized need to improve minimum salaries in the state. For the large majority of districts, the proposal does not result in any mandatory impact as most local salary schedules already exceed the proposed minimums. For these districts, the salary funds must still be used for compensation but no mandatory adjustments to local schedules exist.

This year, Governor Haslam and the General Assembly commendably added another four percent increase to BEP salary funds. The adjustment to the state’s minimum salary schedule, however, is up to the State Board of Education upon recommendation of the Commissioner of Education.

This year’s recommendation was a three percent increase. Today, the State Board of Education adopted that recommendation, making $32,445 the new base salary for Tennessee teachers, effectively the minimum a teacher in the state can earn.

As the State Board of Education notes:

An estimated total of 29  school districts will be required to make
increases to at least one level of their local salary schedule resulting in a specific and earmarked salary expenses.

Admittedly, this year’s increase in funding and the State Board action represent progress.

Last year, I made the following recommendations representing a way to truly improve teacher compensation in our state while supporting local districts:

  • Set the minimum salary for a first-year teacher at $40,000 and create a pay scale with significant raises at 5 years (first year a TN teacher is tenure eligible), 10 years, and 20 years along with reasonable step increases in between
  • Fund the BEP salary component at 75%
  • Adjust the BEP to more accurately account for the number of teachers a district needs
  • Fully fund RTI2 including adding a BEP component for Intervention Specialists
  • Adopt the BEP Review Committee’s recommendations on professional development and mentoring so teachers get the early support and ongoing growth they need

While the General Assembly did pass some BEP reforms this year, more should be done. For example, the new BEP formula freezes funding for the BEP salary component at 70%. Also, an adjustment in the calculation for number of teachers is still needed.

Again, however, this year’s legislative action and today’s State Board of Education action represent measurable progress.

 

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

Decision Time

I reported last week on the potential fight brewing between Williamson County Schools and the Tennessee Department of Education over End of Course testing this year.

Now, Melanie Balakit at the Tennessean reports that the time for a decision is fast approaching.

From the story:

“There is only one district where administration of high school and end-of-course exams have been suspended,” Chandler Hopper, state department of education spokeswoman, wrote in an email. “We are continuing to have discussions with this district and are hopeful that the commissioner’s authority to issue penalties will not be necessary.”

It is not clear what, if any, penalties would be issued from the Commissioner. The Department of Education did threaten to withhold BEP funds from districts who refused to administer Phase II of TNReady prior to the events that led to the cancellation of that portion of the test.

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