Did You Read the Whole Letter?

The BEP Review Committee met today as it begins the process of outlining priorities for BEP improvement for 2018. The group received an update on how Governor Haslam and the General Assembly responded to the priority list it created for this year.

Here’s the list of priorities the committee identified for 2017:

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

Committee members noted that Governor Haslam funded an increase in teacher compensation and improvements in ELL funding. As of today, that budget has passed the House of Representatives and awaits final approval by the Senate on Monday.

The committee also noted that no movement was made to improve the ratio of school counselors to students and no funding was provided for RTI positions. Technology funding also remained constant.

There was an opportunity to address the RTI issue. Rep. Joe Pitts of Clarksville sponsored a bill that would have added to the BEP formula funding for 3 RTI positions for each public school in the state. That bill carried a cost of $167 million. Despite a nearly $1 billion surplus this year, funding was not provided for this legislation.

Committee members — representatives of school boards and superintendents — noted that the RTI program can be successful if properly implemented. Directors of Schools in particular expressed frustration at the state of RTI, noting the program is mandated, but not funded.

The legislature referred Pitts’ bill to the BEP Review Committee for study and further recommendations.

In addition to the lack of funding for RTI positions and school counselors, MNPS Chief Financial Officer Chris Henson noted that historically, the committee has recommended an improvement in funding for school nurses. While that wasn’t in the top 5 this past year, Henson advocated for getting it back on the list. Committee staff indicated members would be surveyed over the summer, with an eye toward a new list of priorities released by August.

One other issue worth noting: Committee staff highlighted increases in BEP funds for teacher compensation over the past three years and suggested this indicates a commitment to the committee’s top priority. However, the BEP Review Committee’s own 2016 report , actual total compensation for teachers has increased by only 1% per year over the last two years.That’s less than the rate of increase from a decade ago, when total teacher compensation was increasing at a rate of about 3% per year. This in spite of repeated commitments to make Tennessee the fastest improving state in the nation in teacher pay.

So, the BEP Review Committee will make a new priority list. Issues like funding RTI positions and school counselors seem likely to make a repeat appearance. The question, then, is will these items receive the attention they deserve?

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


 

Sargent Proposes BEP Changes

State Representative and House Finance Chair Charles Sargent will change how the state divvies up the school funding formula, known as the BEP.

Franklin Home Page reports:

In his first bill, Sargent said breaking down the figures and math with the BEP formula is simply complicated. But essentially, what he wants to accomplish is making sure districts receive their fair share of money.

New money would go into the BEP formula, and would provide a baseline for what the state has to provide per district. School districts should receive 80 percent of the average funding per pupil.

Essentially, no district would receive less than 80% of the state’s average per pupil expenditure.

The story also notes that Sargent wants the state to begin fully funding growth for districts:

Sargent said his second bill is a little bit less complex. Simply, he said he wanted the state to pay for growth entirely for districts. Right now, it only pays a partial percentage. And for districts that growing quickly like Williamson, it could be a game changer. The district grew last year by 1,800 students. In the next five years, that number will expand to 10,000 new students in WCS.

At the present time this last year, we funded anything over 1.4 percent growth,” Sargent said. “So if your district grew 2.4 percent, we paid for one percent of the at increase. But really, we need to fully fund all growth.”

With the state experiencing a significant budget surplus, it will be interesting to see if these proposed changes or other improvements to the BEP are adopted.

For more on education politics and policy 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

When 4=2

In preparation for next year’s TNReady exams, it seems the Department of Education is already using some new math. While the General Assembly appropriated a $100 million increase in teacher compensation, an amount equivalent to a 4% raise, the Department is recommending that the State Board of Education adjust the state’s minimum salary schedule by only 2%.

Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen revealed the proposed recommendation in an email to Directors of Schools:

Directors,

Tennessee law requires the commissioner of education to present annually to the State Board of Education a state minimum salary schedule for the upcoming school year. Historically, the board has adopted the schedule at its regular July meeting after the conclusion of the legislative session and the adoption of the state budget. This year, in response to district communication and feedback, the board will consider the issue at a specially called meeting set for June 9.

The FY 16 state budget includes more than $100 million in improvements for teacher salaries and represents a four percent improvement to the salary component of the Basic Education Program (BEP). Because the BEP is a funding plan and not a spending plan, the $100 million represents a pool of resources from which each district will utilize its portion to meet its unique needs. The structural change in the state salary schedule in July 2013 recognized this inherent flexibility in the BEP by lessening the rigid and strict emphasis on years of experience and degrees and providing more opportunity for districts to design compensation plans based on a number of factors. At the same time, while recognizing the value, appeal and need for maximum flexibility, the state board has stressed the desire to improve teacher compensation, particularly minimum salaries, and Gov. Haslam has outlined his goal for Tennessee to be the fastest improving state in teacher compensation.

Considering this background information as well as feedback from districts and in an effort to provide districts with as much information as possible as early as possible, we want to inform you today that the department will propose increasing the base salary identified in the state minimum salary schedule from $30,876 to $31,500. This represents a two percent adjustment and will impact the other six cells on the state schedule accordingly. For example, the current minimum for a Bachelor’s Degree and 6-10 years of experience is the BASE SALARY + $3,190 or $34,066 (BASE of $30,876 + $3,190). The proposed minimum for the 2014-15 school year for this same cell will be $34,690, which represents the new recommended BASE SALARY of $31,500 + $3,190.

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.

The current state salary schedule can be viewed here for a determination as to how your particular district may be impacted.

Two years ago, the state adopted a new salary schedule at the recommendation of then-Commissioner Kevin Huffman. This schedule gutted the previous 20 step schedule that rewarded teachers for their years of experience and acknowledged the work of earning advanced degrees. Historically, when the General Assembly appropriated funds for a raise, the Commissioner of Education recommended the state minimum salary schedule be adjusted by the percentage represented by the appropriation. So, if the General Assembly increased BEP salary appropriations by 2%, the State Board would raise the state minimum salary schedule by 2%.

This adjustment did not necessarily mean a 2% raise on teacher’s total compensation, because many local districts supplemented teacher salaries beyond the state required minimum. The 2% increase, then, was on the state portion of salaries. Some districts would add funds in some years to ensure their teachers got a full 2%, for example. And in other cases, they’d only get the increase on the state portion. Still, under the old pay scale, teacher salary increases roughly tracked the appropriation by the General Assembly.

Here’s a breakdown of average teacher salary increases compared with BEP increases in years prior to the new salary schedule:

FY                     BEP Salary Increase                     Actual Avg. Pay Increase

2011                  1.6%                                                 1.4%

2012                 2.0%                                                2.0%

2013                2.5%                                                 2.2%

These numbers indicate a trend of average teacher pay increases tracking the state’s BEP increase. In FY 2014, however, immediately after the state adopted a new pay scale designed to build in flexibility and promote merit pay, the General Assembly appropriated funds for a 1.5% salary increase and average teacher pay increased 0.5% — teachers saw 1/3 of the raise, on average, that was intended by the General Assembly.

Why did this happen?

First, nearly every district in the state hires more teachers than the BEP formula generates. This is because students don’t arrive in neatly packaged groups of 20 or 25, and because districts choose to enhance their curriculum with AP courses, foreign language, physical education, and other programs. These add-ons are not fully contemplated by the BEP. And, under the old pay scale, the local district was responsible for meeting the obligation of the pay raise for these teachers on their own. The BEP funds sent to the district only covered the BEP generated teachers. And then, only at 70% of the salary. Now, the district was free to use BEP salary funds to cover compensation expenses previously picked up by local funds.

Instead of addressing the underlying problem and either 1) increasing the base salary used to calculate BEP teacher salary funds or 2) increasing the state match from 70% to 75% or 3) doing both, the state decided to add local “flexibility.”

To be clear, increasing the base salary for BEP funds to the state average would cost $500 million and increasing the state BEP salary match would cost $150 million — neither is a cheap option.

But because every single system operates at a funding level beyond the BEP generated dollar amount, it seems clear that an improvement to the BEP is needed. Changing the BEP allocation to more accurately reflect the number of teachers systems need to operate would improve the financial position of districts, allowing them to direct salary increase monies to salaries.

An additional challenge can be found in Response to Intervention and Instruction — RTI2. While the state mandates that districts provide this enrichment service to students, the state provides no funds for RTI2’s implementation. Done well, RTI2 can have positive impacts on students and on the overall educational environment in a school. Because there is no state funding dedicated to RTI2, however, districts are using their new BEP funds for salary to hire specialists focused on this program.

Here’s the deal: 19 Tennessee school districts pay teachers at levels that mean they’ll have to raise teacher pay if the State Board makes the recommended 2% adjustment. To be clear, the minimum salary a first year teacher can make anywhere in Tennessee is currently $30,876. That will increase to $31,500 if the Board adopts McQueen’s recommendation. Because the 2% only applies to the base number and the other steps increase by a flat amount, a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and 11 or more years of experience will go from a mandated minimum of $37,461 to $38,085.  That’s only 1.67%.

And let’s look at that again: The minimum mandated salary for a teacher in Tennessee with a bachelor’s degree and 11 or more years experience will now be $38,085.

That’s unacceptable.

Instead, policymakers should:

  • 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

The policy reality is those districts at or near the state minimum are the poorest and least able to stretch beyond state funds. Following the proposed recommendation may well serve to exacerbate an already inequitable funding situation.

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

Hungry for BEP Reform

School Boards in Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Memphis have all voted to begin the process of exploring a lawsuit challenging the adequacy of the state’s school funding formula, the BEP.

This challenge is different from the previous Small Schools challenges in two ways. First, it is being initiated by the large school systems, with some support from smaller districts. Second, it’s about adequacy, not equity. That is to say: The point of this potential lawsuit would be to say Tennessee’s school funding formula does not provide enough funding for ALL districts.

Past suits, focused on equity, argued that smaller and poorer districts lost out because the formula didn’t give kids from all districts an equal opportunity. There’s certainly evidence that the BEP is approaching (or already at) unacceptable levels of inequity. One noteworthy example is teacher pay, which shows a disparity of 42% between the top paying and lowest paying districts. The last Small Schools suit found a disparity of 45% unconstitutional. It’s not at all a stretch to suggest that 42% is also unconstitutional or that Tennessee will very soon be at the 45% disparity level.

This time, though, systems are suggesting that overall funding for schools needs to increase — likely to the tune of $500 million or more.

A story from June of last year might explain why. The Chattanooga Times-Free Press reported on changes to rules governing school nutrition, including what can be sold in vending machines at school. Here’s an interesting note from that article:

Before the change to diet sodas, Soddy-Daisy High School’s vending machines would pull in nearly $40,000 a year — money that helped pay the monthly phone bill or purchase copier paper. Now that revenue is down to about $9,000 annually…

…In Hamilton County, the school district funds teaching positions, maintains building and pays utility bills. But for other costs of running a school — including copiers, phone bills and school supplies — the schools have their own budgets, which often don’t come close to covering annual expenses. That’s why money from school fees, vending machines and fundraisers is so important.

Yes, that’s right. Schools are counting on money from selling unhealthy snacks to teenagers to meet their budgets. Existing funds aren’t enough to pay the phone bill or provide adequate school supplies.

The problem with the BEP now goes beyond equity — the inputs simply aren’t adequate to meet the needs of Tennessee’s public schools.

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

 

And the Winner Is …

Jason Vance, Director of Schools in Loudon County.

Jason claimed victory in Education Commissioner Madness.

The contest was a fun way to take a look at who might be Tennessee’s next Commissioner of Education.

Vance posted a brief statement after his victory about what’s important in the next Commissioner.

He mentions the need for increased teacher compensation, improved professional development, and clear and direct communication between the Department of Education and school district leaders.

As the candidate who emerged as the finalist from the policymakers and advocates side of the bracket, let me say that I’m honored to have received support round after round. I also want to congratulate Jason on his victory.

I believe the next Commissioner of Education should be a Tennessee educator who is committed to putting students first and who understands the challenges teachers face every day. Jason definitely meets that standard.

The contest also allowed me to learn more about the outstanding work going on in schools all around Tennessee. It has been exciting to hear about what so many of Tennessee’s school leaders are doing every single day to improve the quality of education in our state.

It is my belief that when these leaders are supported with investment in their schools and in the personnel that staff them, Tennessee students will achieve amazing results.

It is long past time to fix Tennessee’s broken BEP.

Adjusting the funding formula is not enough. New investment must be made in order to give our students the resources they need to succeed.

The next education commissioner should be a tireless advocate for our schools and students. It has been great to see so many outstanding leaders who make this their life’s work.

 

For more on education commissioner madness and other education issues, follow @BluffCityEd

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