Clay County and the Broken BEP

Citing budget difficulties, Clay County Schools have closed (temporarily) and may not reopen until mid-November.

The Director of Schools, Jerry Strong, notes that the budget issues have been building over the past three years and have finally reached the tipping point. The County Commission doesn’t want to raise property taxes (the county is relatively poor, so a property tax wouldn’t necessarily generate a lot of revenue) and has placed a wheel tax referendum on the March ballot.

It’s interesting to see a school system close due to insufficient funds at the same time school systems across the state are suing due to inadequate funding from the BEP formula.

Moreover, the lack of funds comes at a time when the state is passing down expensive, unfunded mandates like RTI2.

It’s also hard to imagine that a fully-funded BEP 2.0 wouldn’t help address this situation. Under that scenario, Clay County would see some $450,000 in new revenue each year from the state.

While the situation in Clay County may soon see at least a temporary resolution that will get students back to school, it points to a larger reality: The BEP is broken.

It’s time to use the surplus revenue our state has to begin investing in schools in a meaningful, sustainable way.

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

 

 

Schools Can Wait, We Need More Tax Breaks

That seems to be the message from state Senator Brian Kelsey of Memphis, who is suggesting using the state’s revenue surplus to eliminate the Hall Tax on investment income.

Kelsey’s plan would eliminate nearly $200 million a year in revenue. This at a time when school systems are suing the state due to grossly inadequate funding.

The push to provide tax breaks to the investor class comes as revenue is soaring above projections, as Rick Locker notes:

The state ended its fiscal year 2014-15 on June 30 with nearly $606 million more revenue overall than was projected and budgeted for the year, including $553 million more revenue in the government’s general fund than was projected. The general fund pays for most of state government’s non-transportation programs.

In addition to putting a call for tax breaks ahead of the need for improved investment in schools, Kelsey has also been a chief proponent of voucher schemes that would take millions of dollars from local school coffers. Not to mention there is scant evidence an expansive voucher plan like Kelsey’s would actually improve student outcomes.

Kelsey is not the only lawmaker whose priorities don’t include investing surplus dollars into public education. Earlier this year, House Speaker Beth Harwell suggested investing the surplus dollars into roads in order to avoid raising the gas tax.

What the General Assembly needs is a plan that would invest a significant portion of the surplus into schools and save the rest for future investment. Building a long-term, sustainable plan for improving the BEP (the state funding formula for schools) is critical, not just to avoid losing a lawsuit but also to support the excellent schools Tennessee families and communities deserve.

MORE on school funding in Tennessee:

Why is TN 40th?

Why Fix the BEP?

Why is he so angry?

 

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

For the First Time

The State Board of Education met today and per legislative mandate, appointed the members of the 2015-16 BEP Review Committee.

The BEP Review Committee is a group of education stakeholders who meet each year to review the state’s education funding formula and make recommendations for improvements in order to ensure that the formula continues to provide adequate, equitable education funding.

The 2014 report recommended $478 million in improvements. The legislature took a baby step in 2015, funding just under $30 million in new money to cover 11 months of health insurance for teachers (who are insured, it turns out, for a full 12 months).

Here’s the interesting thing, the Board approved appointments for the 2015-16 edition of the BEP Review Committee and for the first time, those appointments did not include a representative from the Tennessee Education Association — the oldest and largest organization representing teachers in Tennessee.

The group includes representatives of School Boards, Superintendents, city government, county government, county commissioners, state legislative committees and others.

Here’s the list:

2015-2016 BEP Review Committee Members
Lyle Ailshie
Director of Schools
Kingsport City Schools
Harry Brooks
Chair, House Education Administration and
Planning Committee
Tennessee General Assembly
David Connor
Executive Director
Tennessee County Services Association
Dolores Gresham
Chair, Senate Education Committee
Tennessee General Assembly
Lee Harrell
Director of Government Relations
Tennessee Schools Board Association
Vincent Harvell
Director of Business Operations
Haywood County Schools
Chris Henson
Interim Director of Schools
Metro Nashville Public Schools
Sara Heyburn
Executive Director
Tennessee State Board of Education
Dorsey Hopson
Director of Schools
Shelby County Schools
Karen King
Assistant Superintendent
Sevier County Schools
Larry Martin
Commissioner
Department of Finance and Administration
Wayne Miller
Executive Director
Tennessee Organization of School
Superintendents
Mitchell Moore
City Manager, City of Athens
Tennessee Municipal League
Rick Nicholson
Senate Budget Director
Office of Legislative Budget Analysis
Don Odom
Director of Schools
Rutherford County Schools
Lynnisse Roehrich-Patrick
Executive Director
Tennessee Advisory Commission on
Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR)
Larry Ridings
Tennessee School Systems for Equity
Fielding Rolston
Chairman
Tennessee State Board of Education
Mary Ann Sparks
Deputy Director of Schools
Wilson County Schools
Justin P. Wilson
Comptroller of the Treasury
Hunter Zanardi
Instructional Specialist
Putnam County Schools

 

The appointments are recommended by State Board staff and then presented to and approved by the Board. Following today’s meeting, the committee will meet with a legislative directive to complete their report by November 1st. And, for the first time, that report won’t include the input of the Tennessee Education Association.

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

Just Another School Funding Lawsuit

Bluff City Ed reports that Shelby County Schools will file a lawsuit today claiming the state’s school funding formula (BEP) is inadequate and inequitable.

The Shelby County suit is separate from the suit filed by Hamilton County and six other districts — that suit suggests the state funding formula is inadequate to the tune of $500 million a year.

Why are districts suing? Because the BEP Review Committee — a state group set up (by law) to review the state’s school funding formula each year and report on any deficiencies – has consistently reported that the state is under-funding schools. Interestingly, the BEP Review Committee was set up to alert the legislature of funding disparities in a timely fashion so the state could avoid the kind of lawsuit that originally resulted in the BEP.

Funny thing about that: Tennessee has been sued twice since the original lawsuit and lost both times.

Not so funny thing: The General Assembly still appears to be reluctant to seriously address lack of funding for schools. In fact, some leaders are downright hostile to the idea.

Perhaps one (or several) of these lawsuits will be successful and the General Assembly will be forced to address the serious funding shortfall facing districts across the state. There’s even a way to start investing in schools without raising any taxes.

More on the BEP:

TCAP: Proficiency or Poverty

Money for Roads, but Not for Schools?

Why Fix the BEP?

That’s a Big Class

For more on education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport

Does TCAP Measure Proficiency or Poverty?

Ken Chilton, a professor at Tennessee State University, has a column in yesterday’s Chattanooga Times-Free Press in which he theorizes that poverty is a much better predictor of student performance on TCAP than teacher performance or other school-based factors.

Moreover, Chilton argues that the current emphasis on testing is misplaced and that frequent changes in standards and tests prevent meaningful long-term trend analysis.

He says:

Despite the proclamations of systemic failure, we don’t have enough longitudinal data to really know what is or is not working. The standards and the tests used to measure success change frequently. Consequently, it’s difficult to compare apples to apples. So, when scores change in one year we tend to mistake one data point for a trend by touting success or placing blame. Yet, most of us don’t know what proficiency means.

And he laments the expectations game played by policymakers and state education leaders:

Educators are under immense pressure to show improvement. Resources, careers and jobs are on the line. But, is it realistic to expect big jumps in proficiency from one academic year to the next, to the next and to the next? No, it’s incredibly unrealistic. And, it sets up a series of public expectations that are crushed year after year.

These unmet expectations contribute to the false perception that public schools are broken and thus are undeserving of additional tax revenues.

As for education reforms that get much attention in our state, Chilton says:

…but the annual TCAP gnashing of the teeth suggests that our expectations are out of whack with reality. None of the education reforms implemented in Tennessee address the underlying root causes that threaten the viability of our public schools — inequality.

Chilton’s analysis and claims regarding inequality and the impact of poverty are supported by (admittedly short-term) analysis of TCAP data from the top- and bottom-performing districts in the state:

An analysis of TCAP performance over time indicates that those school systems with consistently high levels of poverty tend to have consistently low scores on TCAP. Likewise, those systems with the least amount of poverty tend to have consistently higher scores on TCAP.

Additional analysis suggests:

The top 10 districts spend an average of 3 times more than the bottom 10 in terms of investment over the BEP formula. They also have an ACT average that is 5 points higher and a TCAP average that is nearly 20 points higher than the bottom ten.

In short, as Chilton suspects, there is a glaring inequality in terms of the educational opportunities offered Tennessee students. Add to that a growing inadequacy in terms of state investment in schools, and you have a recipe for certain failure.

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

 

 

Money for Roads but Not Schools?

House Speaker Beth Harwell is talking about using the state’s revenue surplus to fund road projects — but has made no mention yet of how the General Assembly might begin to fund the $500 million+ being sought by school systems across the state in a lawsuit over funding adequacy.

According to the Tennessean:

The Nashville Republican noted that state tax collections continue to exceed expectations, estimating the state could receive $400 million more than anticipated. With talk of a potential gas tax increase floating around the state, Harwell said that extra one-time tax money should fund some of the many shelved state road projects.

Certainly, investing in infrastructure is wise. But, so is investing in schools.

And since the state’s BEP Review Committee says Tennessee is about $500 million behind in funding its schools and since school systems are suing demanding adequacy in light of unfunded mandates like Response to Intervention (RTI2), it would make sense to use some of the new money to begin investing in schools.

Of course, Harwell’s #2, Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, has already expressed his displeasure with school systems seeking proper funding.

The point is this: There’s money to fund some infrastructure projects AND to begin investing in schools — and it can be started without a tax increase.

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


 

 

Why Fix the BEP?

I’ve written recently about the growing state revenue collections and the corresponding request (in the form of a lawsuit) from school districts that the BEP (state school funding formula) be adequately funded – to the tune of some $500 million in new money.

But, some might ask: Why even fix the BEP? It’s a complex formula and besides, don’t our schools already have enough money?

The short answer is no. No, Tennessee schools do not have enough money.

I have gone so far as to suggest the BEP is broken and to explain the reasons for its current inadequacy.

Now, more evidence suggesting the need to fix the BEP. Essentially, it’s this: Since 2008, Tennessee’s “effort” in terms of percentage of state revenue devoted to school funding has fallen. I’ll show you a hand graph on that from the Education Law Center:

Source: "Is School Funding Fair?" by the Education Law Center

While an number of states began making improvements after 2011, Tennessee was not among them. Recent investments may have returned Tennessee to pre-recession funding levels, but not by much.

And then, there’s a recent report from Rutgers that suggests that when it comes to school funding, Tennessee gets an “F.”

From the Commercial Appeal:

The annual report card out of Rutgers University that grades states on how they fund public education shows Tennessee at the “bottom of the barrel” in fairness. Besides being one of 16 states earning an F for percentage of state resources allocated to K-12 education, family incomes of children attending its public schools on average are half that of children in private schools or being home-schooled.

“That’s a warning signal,” says David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center.

“It becomes difficult to get the kind of forward-thinking reform in legislation if you have more affluent families not invested in this system,” he said.

The study looks at “fairness” in funding, including whether states allow more resources for districts with high numbers of students in poverty. Tennessee earned a B in the category, but Sciarra says even that is misleading.

“Because spending is so low, it really does not amount to much,” he said.

So, why fix the BEP? Because school funding in Tennessee is both inequitable and inadequate. Of course, making the needed investments would normally be a heavy lift, but with recent rosy revenue news, fixing the BEP (and improving the future for our students and entire state) requires only a little hard work and some political will.

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

500 Here, 500 There

So, the state keeps taking in more revenue — a lot more than it planned — and it’s starting to add up to real money, some $500 million and the year’s not over yet.

Andrea Zelinski has the story:

Nearing the end of state government’s fiscal year, Tennessee has collected nearly one half billion dollars more than expected, according to state officials.

Revenues totaled $974 million for May, when $50.5 million more than expected pouring into state coffers. Overall, the state has collected $495 million more than anticipated in the first 10 months of the budget year, with $452 million overcollected for the general fund, according to the Department of Finance and Administration.

What’s interesting about this story is that the total amount of over-collection represents almost exactly the dollar amount needed to satisfy school systems suing the state for inadequate K-12 funding.

$500 million appears to be the magic number:

Achieving a level of adequate funding as contemplated in the lawsuit would cost an estimated $500 million. Should the motion be granted, all 141 school systems in the state would effectively become a party to the suit — an unprecedented show of strength in what has historically been small school systems suing over equity. This suit differs from the previous “small schools” suits in that it focuses on the inadequacy of the funding formula rather than on any inequities that may exist.

So, we have $500 million in revenue over anticipated collections on the one hand and school systems suing to restore adequacy to the BEP to the tune of $500 million on the other.

Seems like someone (legislators, Governor Haslam, anyone…) ought to be able to work with these numbers and find a positive solution.

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

 

 

That’s a Big Class

According to the Chattanooga Times-Free Press:

Every school district in Tennessee could be part of the Hamilton County Department of Education’s lawsuit against the state’s Basic Education Program school funding formula if a judge grants a motion to grant it class-action status.

“While the larger districts have been the ones voicing concerns about the underfunding of education, this underfunding has ramifications literally everywhere,” school district attorney D. Scott Bennett said.

Hamilton County Schools and six nearby school districts — Bradley, Coffee, Grundy, Marion, McMinn and Polk — are plaintiffs in the lawsuit Bennett filed on March 24 in Davidson County Chancery Court.

The suit claims the state has “breached its duty under the Tennessee Constitution to provide a system of free public education for the children of this state.”

Achieving a level of adequate funding as contemplated in the lawsuit would cost an estimated $500 million. Should the motion be granted, all 141 school systems in the state would effectively become a party to the suit — an unprecedented show of strength in what has historically been small school systems suing over equity. This suit differs from the previous “small schools” suits in that it focuses on the inadequacy of the funding formula rather than on any inequities that may exist.

That’s money House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick says the state can’t afford:

“They are suing the taxpayers, that’s who they are suing,” said House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga.

Fully funding the BEP has been estimated to cost $500 million. McCormick said that would have to come out of existing programs, such as funding colleges and universities, because the state constitution mandates K-12 education but not higher education. And Tennesseans don’t want higher taxes, he said.

Of course, McCormick also supported legislative efforts designed to keep local school systems from suing the state for adequate funding.

A look at three revenue issues reveals that McCormick is just plain wrong in his assertion that addressing BEP funding inadequacy would necessitate higher taxes.

First, state revenues are continuing a trend of coming in over projections.  Andrea Zelinski notes:

Year to date nine months into the fiscal year, state revenues are $444 million more than anticipated.

So, if Tennessee invested 100% of these over-collections into K-12 education, we’d come very close to the $500 million needed to adequately fund the BEP and provide more resources to local school systems to educate their students. Of course, it’s wise to save some of that money, but even a 25% investment would mean an additional $111 million a year for our schools. All with no new taxes.

Next, it’s important to protect the existing tax base. Governor Haslam took a small step on this front this year for the first time in his administration. The Revenue Modernization Act is projected to result in $20 million in new revenue by closing loopholes and helping the state collect the taxes it is owed. This is a start, but by way of comparison, the Bredesen Administration collected $500 million in revenue by aggressively protecting the tax code and ensuring that taxes owed were taxes paid. That is, they went after corporate tax avoidance strategies in smart, effective ways, year after year. It’s estimated that between $30 and $50 million a year in revenue can be protected each year by closing loopholes.

Add the mid-range, $40 million, to the low estimate of new revenue coming in over projections available for use and you’re looking at over $150 million in new money each year for schools over and above current funding levels.

Finally, I wrote in 2014 about the state’s planned loss of revenue. More specifically, the state is phasing out the inheritance tax – a move that has limited benefits but has a definite impact on the bottom line in terms of revenue collection. Specifically:

Additional revenue is lost by the gradual phase out of Tennessee’s estate tax, previously impacting estates over $1 million.  The plan is to phase that out entirely by 2016, with an estimated revenue loss of around $30 million this year and around $97 million in 2016-17’s budget. So, that’s roughly $76 million, or close to half of the projected shortfall for the upcoming budget cycle. To his credit, Haslam says he wants to hold off on efforts to repeal the Hall tax on investment income – a tax paid by a small number of wealthy Tennesseans with investment income.  However, he has also said reducing or eliminating the Hall tax is a goal. Phasing out the tax, as proposed in legislation under consideration this year at the General Assembly, would mean a loss of $20 million in the 2015-16 budget year and an ultimate loss in state funds of $160 million a year and in local revenue of $86 million a year.

If the estate tax was returned to its previous level, it would mean some $97 million in available revenue next year. Policymakers could tinker with this formula to ensure some taxes are collected, but the rate is lower and easily collect $50 million a year in revenue.  Adding these three items together and being conservative, Tennessee could easily invest $200 million more a year in its public schools.

That means Gerald McCormick is wrong. Making significant new investments in Tennessee schools DOES NOT require raising taxes or implementing new taxes. It does require political will and a little hard work.

MORE ON THE BEP:

Money Talks

Shelby County Votes to Sue

Why is he (Gerald McCormick) so angry?

Why is TN 40th?

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

 

Adequate and Equitable

That’s what the Shelby County Schools are seeking from the state — adequate and equitable school funding. As the state currently provides neither, the Shelby County School Board voted Tuesday to hire legal counsel to pursue such funding, an action which may ultimately result in filing a lawsuit against the state, the Commercial Appeal reports.

Recently, Jon Alfuth over at Bluff City Ed suggested that Shelby County should join the 7 other Tennessee districts already suing the state over inadequate school funding.

According to the report, Board members referenced the 2007 funding formula update known as BEP 2.0 and noted that if it were fully and properly funded, Shelby County would receive $103 million in additional funding next year.

Rather than push for full funding of BEP 2.0, Governor Haslam has appointed his own task force asked to redistribute the pie rather than increase its size.

Other than chastising districts for asking for the full and equitable funding they deserve, the General Assembly did little this past session to address the BEP situation.

Three previous lawsuits against the state seeking improved school funding have all been successful and all resulted in significant cash infusions to local school districts.

More on the BEP:

Money Talks

Why is TN 40th?

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