Why is he so angry?

Gerald McCormick is pissed.

The House Majority Leader apparently doesn’t like it very much when the school system in the county he represents sues the state alleging inadequate school funding.

So, now he’s going to teach them a lesson. He’s supporting a measure that is nothing more than a blatant attempt to keep school boards from asking for the adequate school funding they need.

Andrea Zelinski has the story:

Legislators are baking into one of several budget bills a ban on local school districts using state money for attorney’s fees, court costs or other expenses to sue the state, state agency or state official.

“I know you don’t want your own dog to bite you, I understand that part of it. But still, it seems a little unfair if you have a just cause against the state and you can’t have the ability to sue them,” said House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, in a Finance Committee meeting Wednesday night before lawmakers approved the change on a voice vote.

If the state were to prevail in a legal challenge, the legislation would give the state power to recoup its own legal costs by pulling money out the school district’s education funding, also known as the Basic Education Program, BEP, funding formula. The language would also apply to county and municipal governing bodies suing the state, and would pull from its state-shared taxes if the local government lost.

McCormick is on record this legislative session as saying Tennessee’s public schools have adequate funding. And he’s clearly not happy with his home county suing and asking him to work a little harder at his job.

Note that I bolded that words: If the state were to prevail in a legal challenge.

That’s because every time the State of Tennessee has been sued over school funding, the state has lost. So, local boards probably have nothing to worry about.

In fact, funding now is nearing the levels deemed constitutionally inequitable in the Small Schools III lawsuit.

Of course, the current lawsuit by Hamilton County and six other districts is actually claiming funding is inadequate. That’s a fair claim, at least if you read the reports from the state’s own BEP Review Committee.

And, despite McCormick’s claims to the contrary, the state isn’t even funding its mandates. For example, the Response to Intervention and Instruction (RTI2) program is mandated, but there are no state funds to support it.

Here’s why that’s especially troubling:

…those districts with higher concentrations of poverty (and likely to have higher numbers of students needing intervention) also have the least resources available to assist students.  The poorest districts, then, are left further behind as a result of a well-intentioned unfunded state mandate.

The unfunded RTI mandate is clear evidence of inadequacy and also sets the stage for further inequity in Tennessee schools.

Rather than dig deep and find some solutions, Gerald McCormick and his legislative buddies appear willing to attempt to punish school boards. Here’s some advice: If you don’t want to be sued for inadequately and inequitably funding Tennessee schools, get to work finding the resources to support them and a funding formula that distributes those resources fairly.

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

TCAP, Poverty, and Investment in Schools

Recently, I wrote about the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment of Poverty, or TCAP. In that piece, I talked about how concentrated poverty combined with low investment in schools led to poor educational outcomes. I also mentioned how the broken BEP impacts districts because it is inadequate to meet the needs of Tennessee’s schools.

Now, I want to share the data I used to make those claims.

This data will show % of investment above BEP requirements, 3 year average ACT score (where applicable) and average TCAP scores.

The Top 10

District                % above BEP           3 yr ACT avg.             TCAP avg.

FSSD                   44.94%                     n/a                                63

Rogersville         19.83%                     n/a                                60

Newport             14.51%                      n/a                                62

Maryville            33.8%                      23.8                               65

Oak Ridge          37.23%                    23.1                               58

Williamson       20.5%                       22.9                             67

Greeneville      27.47%                      22.1                             58

Johnson City  26.77%                       22.1                             61

Kingsport        31.85%                       22                               59

Shelby              17.32%                       20.8                           58

AVERAGE    27.42%                    22.4                         61.1

The Top 10 districts in terms of student achievement invested nearly 28% above the BEP requirements and had an ACT average well above the state average.

The Bottom Ten

District          % above BEP          3 yr. ACT avg.              TCAP avg.

Lake                5.07%                       18.1                                 41

Union             4.91%                       17.9                                 45

Madison         14.22%                    17.9                                 46

Campbell       3.4%                        17.7                                  44

Haywood       6.48%                     17.5                                  41

Hardeman    11.58%                    17                                      46

Hancock       4.49%                     16.6                                   44

Memphis      19.15%                   16.4                                    38

Fayette         9.83%                    16.3                                     42

Humboldt   13.5%                     16.2                                    43

AVERAGE 9.26%                 17.16                                43

The bottom ten districts in terms of student performance invest less than 10% above the BEP formula and have an ACT average well below the state average.

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.

Interestingly, even the bottom 10 districts spend just over 9% more than the BEP formula on average. That’s a sure sign that districts can’t run on the funds and funding levels established by the current BEP. The BEP is simply inadequate to meet Tennessee’s educational needs.

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

Huffman Chairs Pie-Slicing Task Force

Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman is chairing Governor Haslam’s Task Force on the Basic Education Plan.  Haslam appointed the task force after districts began complaining that the current structure of the BEP is unfair.  In doing so, he essentially ignored the work of the standing BEP Review Committee, which annually reviews and recommends changes to the BEP formula.

After the committee’s initial meeting, Huffman said, according to the Chattanooga Times-Free Press:

“The purpose of the task force is not to say Tennessee needs to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more of money that we may or may not have,” Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, said following the meeting. “The purpose of it to look at are the right components included as part of the formula, and given a fixed pie, how would you distribute that pie based on capacity.”

So, Huffman is in charge of a committee that’s tasked with deciding how to divide up an already inadequate pie.

If he’s serious about the work, he’d do well to go back to the reforms proposed under Governor Bredesen with the help of then-state Senator Jamie Woodson. Those reforms, dubbed BEP 2.0 changed BEP allocations and also added some new funding allocations.

The cost of fully funding BEP 2.0 would be around $150 million.

Finding that money may mean making difficult choices.  Just north of us, in Kentucky, Governor Steve Beshear has proposed a budget making tough choices in order to fund education.  While many departments see budget cuts in his proposal, K-12 education sees budget increases.

While Governor Haslam and his legislative partners seem intent on eliminating the Hall Income Tax and reducing revenue, education suffers.  And if that agenda is what they believe is absolutely essential to Tennessee’s future, surely some cuts in other areas can be found in order to boost investment in public education.

Of course, proposing a budget that cuts most departments but increases funding for public schools requires leadership and tough choices.

Instead, it seems we have a committee focused on redistributing the slices of a shrinking pie.

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


Time to Fix the BEP?

The Metro Nashville School Board this week suggested that the state revise and improve its funding formula for schools, known as the BEP.

A resolution drafted by board member Amy Frogge and passed unanimously by the MNPS board indicates that the current formula does not allow districts to properly implement rigorous news standards and provide improved salaries for teachers.

If legislators and Governor Haslam want to take a look at improving the BEP, they need only take a look at the BEP 2.0 formula developed under Governor Phil Bredesen with significant input from then-state Senator Jamie Woodson, who now heads SCORE.

Of course, current Metro board member Will Pinkston was a key Bredesen staffer when the BEP 2.0 formula was developed, so he’s quite familiar with how it would improve the funding situation not just for MNPS but for most districts in the state.

Fully funding BEP 2.0 may take incremental steps and perhaps could be complete in two to three years with some focus and budget prioritization from the General Assembly and the Governor.

If the current formula is not re-examined and improved, it seems likely that districts large and small will continue to complain of mandates coming from the state without adequate funding for their implementation.

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