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.
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