Severe Teacher and Staff Shortages

Tennessee public schools suffer from severe teacher and staff shortages, according to a newly-released analysis from the Education Law Center. The report finds the state’s school funding formula (BEP) completely inadequate.

Here’s more on the report from ELC:

A new report by Education Law Center, More Funding Needed to Fix Tennessee School Staff Shortages, shows Tennessee’s high poverty school districts are burdened with larger student-to-teacher ratios than wealthier districts and support staff ratios that are drastically out of line with minimum national standards. This staffing shortage is the result of the well-documented failure of Tennessee’s school funding formula, the Basic Education Program (BEP), to adequately fund the cost of education for all students, especially students in the state’s poorest districts and schools.

The ELC report documents the need for all Tennessee districts to hire more staff than the BEP funds, especially in the case of the state’s poorest districts, which are more understaffed than their wealthier counterparts. ELC’s analysis finds:

·     Nearly all districts raise more local funds than required by the BEP. Districts with the least fiscal capacity raise, on average, $375 per pupil above the level required by the BEP formula, compared to over $2,350 per pupil in districts with the most fiscal capacity.

·     On average, the BEP funds one teacher for every 23 students. Wealthier districts supplement with local funds to reduce that ratio to 19-20 students per teacher, while the poorest districts average a student-teacher ratio of 24:1.

·     The population of English language learners (ELL) is considerably higher in the poorest districts than in the wealthiest (10% vs. 3%); yet the ELL student to ESL teacher ratio is twice as high in poor districts than in wealthier districts.

·     Of the 140 districts in the state, 111 did not have a single social worker on staff, including 15 of the poorest districts.

·     Twelve districts across the state had no social worker, no psychologist and a student to counselor ratio above 600. These districts educate over 25,000 students, nearly 40% of whom are poor.

The report also presents district-level details. For example, it is possible to compare staffing levels in Shelby, with 59% of students in poverty, with neighboring Collierville, with a student poverty rate of only 7%. Both districts add nearly double the local funding they are allocated through the BEP formula, or about $2,000 per pupil. But Shelby has a student-teacher ratio of 26:1 compared to Collierville’s ratio of 21:1. Overall, Shelby hired 4% more staff than they were allotted through the BEP formula, compared to 11% more staff in Collierville. 

This summer, Tennessee legislators decided to flat fund the deeply inadequate BEP formula in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. An $117 million increase in teacher salaries in this year’s state budget was lowered to $58 million in March and then cut completely in June. The severe deficits in essential teachers and support staff are likely to worsen given the Legislature’s continuing resistance to follow-through on a promised increase in teacher salaries and other school funding increases. This will require districts to seek more local funds to meet the additional needs of their students during this time of pandemic school closures and reopenings, increased unemployment, and health dangers.

“Tennessee lawmakers must protect current levels of funding in high-poverty districts and provide additional support to these districts wherever possible,” said Mary McKillip, ELC Senior Researcher and report co-author. “The State should also take the opportunity presented by the pandemic to rethink its clearly broken funding formula and set the stage for long-term improvements to public education, including supporting teachers and other school staff.”

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TEA Pushes for School Nurses

In a recent tweet responding to Gov. Bill Lee’s proposal to have school nurses conduct COVID-19 testing, the Tennessee Education Association highlighted the need for the state to provide funding for a nurse in every school.

https://twitter.com/TEA_teachers/status/1313532196930686978?s=20

The issue of school nurses has been on the agenda of the state’s BEP Review Committee for years. In fact, back in 2014, the committee (tasked with annually evaluating the efficacy of the state’s school funding formula), recommended a significant improvement in funding for school nurses.

Here’s the recommendation from the 2014 report:

Change funding ratios for nurses from 1:3,000 to 1:1,500  $12,194,000

So, for at least six years now (and, to be fair, BEP reports before 2014 also mentioned improvements to funding for school nurses), the state has fallen significantly short of the necessary funding to adequately staff schools with nurses. Now, Gov. Lee wants to add tasks without adding personnel.

Here’s the deal: The management principle of “get more with less” is total crap. Gov. Lee should know this, as he came to state government straight from the private sector. Here’s what you get when you ask overworked, underpaid people to do more with less: You get less. Something has to suffer. Maybe COVID tests will happen, but something else will fall by the wayside. Or, maybe less people will even consider becoming school nurses in Tennessee, further exacerbating the current shortage.

Six years. Two Governors named Bill. No action.

Sad!

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Do Something

This piece by leaders of Pastors for Tennessee Children exposes the failed agenda of school privatizers and offers a path forward that involves meaningful investment in Tennessee public schools.

When meeting with elected leaders tasked with improving education in Tennessee, we have heard a common refrain: “We have to do something.”

In response to public education challenges, our state has tried various “solutions,” almost all of which have involved privatization: vouchers, charter schools, excessive for-profit standardized testing, and expensive curriculums.

None of these options has made a sustainable difference. In fact, vouchers and charter schools have made it worse, serving to exacerbate existing inequities in school systems by draining desperately needed funding from the neighborhood schools that serve around 90% of Tennessee’s students.

Often, the real impetus behind these privatization efforts is not the well-being of children, but a desire for personal profit.

READ MORE>

MORE on the schemes privatizers are pushing in Tennessee:

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Rhetoric vs. Reality

Gov. Bill Lee recently denied a request from Williamson County Schools for a waiver of TNReady and other requirements for the upcoming school year in light of COVID-19.

In response, the President of education-focused group SCORE tweeted this:

Here’s the thing. If Gov. Lee were actually an advocate of strong and student-centered policy, he wouldn’t have cut improvements to teacher pay from his budget this year. He’d implement a statewide mask mandate. He wouldn’t push an unproven voucher scheme only to see it overturned in the courts. He would work to make progress on the $1.7 billion deficit in the state’s funding formula for schools.

But. He’s not. He hasn’t been. He won’t be. Tennessee schools and the students and teachers in them will continue to be left behind as a result of the aggressive privatization strategy Lee is pursuing.

The Future is Now

Nashville education blogger TC Weber came out strong this week with a compelling argument that the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing an evolution in public education. His central premise: schools aren’t going back to “normal” after the crisis passes. Here’s a nice summary from his post:

My main point here is that if a district is treating its reopening plan as simply crisis management, and failing to adequately consider future implications, they are leaving themselves at a serious disadvantage. The time for crisis management was back in the Spring, we have since moved into the realm of evolution, and participation is not an option. If LEAs don’t develop their own future policies and protocols, others – including parents – will do it for them. The world ain’t returning to a shape that we are familiar with and the only option is to embrace and try to positively impact the future.

Read the rest here:

BEP Headed to Trial

Tennessee’s funding formula for schools, the BEP, is going to trial next year. Chalkbeat reports that a Nashville judge has scheduled a trial in case claiming the state funding formula is inadequate. That trial is set for October 2021.

Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle set the long-awaited trial date during a conference call last week with attorneys in the case. The litigation pits school districts in Memphis and Nashville against the state over whether Tennessee allocates enough money for K-12 education, especially for its urban students.

The trial’s outcome could have major implications for how Tennessee public schools are funded. If successful, the case could force the state to invest more in K-12 education, which already consumes about $6.5 billion of the state’s $39.6 billion budget.

https://tn.chalkbeat.org/2020/7/15/21326022/judge-sets-trial-date-for-tennessees-5-year-old-school-funding-lawsuit

A recent report from the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) found that Tennessee underfunds schools by around $1.7 billion a year.

So Essential They’re Not Worth a Raise

Teachers: They are “essential employees” but just aren’t worth giving a raise. That’s the message from Maryville as reported in a recent article in the Daily Times.

Maryville’s reopening plan designates all staff members “essential critical workers” and allows them to continue working following a potential COVID-19 exposure if they are asymptomatic and follow guidelines such as wearing a face covering for 14 days.

Winstead said that the provision is designed to allow schools to operate with enough staff if there is exposure to a child with the coronavirus.

But also note:

Faced with funding and other uncertainties as classes are about to resume for the first time since the pandemic, the Maryville Board of Education voted Monday, July 13, to rescind a planned raise and spend about $128,000 to disinfect buildings.

The article notes the raise was cut as a result of the state reducing salary funds to the district. At Gov. Lee’s urging, the General Assembly eliminated all salary increase funds from the BEP (the state funding formula for schools).

Walsingham Calls for Federal Investment in Education

In an interview with the Johnson City Press, 1st District congressional candidate Blair Walsingham noted she’d like to see more federal dollars flow to public schools.

Basic income, educational programs and modern vocational training will increase opportunity.

We need to focus our resources on improving our infrastructure, educational system, eliminating health care deserts and expenses, and providing a universal basic income to all Americans. 

Read more: https://www.johnsoncitypress.com/news/walsingham-believes-tax-dollars-should-be-invested-in-education/article_99c394da-c216-11ea-a549-8b28102eac11.html

This

Peter Greene explains pretty much everything you need to know about public education in this post about returning to school amid COVID-19:

Finally, we know that based on everything we think we know right now, the price tag for safely opening schools again is huge. Lots of folks are trying to run numbers, and everyone agrees that the figure will be in the billions—many of them. And simply throwing up our hands and going back to some version of distance learning is, we already know, not much of an option—unless we pour a bunch of money into getting it right.

Teachers know, in their guts, where this is headed. They have seen versions of this movie before. For instance, in 1975 Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which promised every student with disabilities a free appropriate public education. Knowing that meant extra expenses for school districts, Congress promised funding to back IDEA. They have never, in 45 years, honored that promise, and schools have just had to find their own way to meet that unfunded mandate.

We’re having a national conversation about controlling the spread of coronavirus in classrooms where teachers still have to buy their own tissues and hand sanitizer.

THAT^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

And, well, this:

It would be great—absolutely great—if elected officials responded to the current situation by saying, “There is nothing more important than our children’s education, so we are going to do whatever it takes, spend whatever is necessary, to make sure that every single schools has every single resource it could possibly need to make its students and staff safe and secure and able to concentrate on the critical work of educating tomorrow’s citizens. We will spare no expense, even if we have to cut other spending, raise taxes on some folks, or spend more money that we don’t actually have.”

Nobody who has been in education longer than a half an hour expects that to happen.

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Sounding the Alarm

Tennessee teachers are raising concerns about school budgets as new demands are created in response to COVID-19.

Tennessee Lookout has more:

Districts across Tennessee currently have task forces composed of members of the community and most have released few details about reopening schools for the fall. Metro Nashville Public Schools announced Tuesday three different scenarios for the fall reopening while Shelby County Schools announced their plan to combine in-person and distance learning. The Hamilton County Schools task force, with administrators, teachers, parents, students, community leaders and health professionals, say too many variables and possible changes could occur within the next two months to announce a plan yet.

Initial announcements have caused concerns due to the implied need for increased resources, such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and social-distancing protocols that will require more staffing. 

Smaller class sizes, more nurses and counselors are just a few of the many resources necessary for students to return to school, according to TEA.  

“In order to meet the needs of our students, their safety needs and academic needs, we need more resources, not fewer,” said Beth Brown, president of TEA. 

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