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.
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