Another day, another story about how Tennessee is failing to invest in schools.
The National Report Card on School Funding Fairness indicates Tennessee is not trying very hard (the rhetoric of Governor Bill Haslam notwithstanding).
The Report Card analyzes several indicators of school funding to determine how a state supports schools. The most basic is raw spending on schools. Here, Tennessee ranks 43rd in the nation. So, still near the bottom.
How does Tennessee distribute funding in high-poverty vs. low-poverty districts? Not great, but not terrible. The Report Card awards a grade of C and uses per pupil spending data to demonstrate that high-poverty districts (those with 30% or more of students on Free/Reduced Lunch) spend about 3% less than low-poverty districts. Of course, fairness would dictate that those high-poverty districts spend a bit more, but Tennessee is in the category of states doing an average job in this regard. Our state funding formula (the BEP) is supposed to ensure some level of equity, but the funding may not be enough in those districts lacking the resources to provide significant funds for schools.
Here’s the real problem: We’re not trying very hard to do better.
Tennessee earns a grade of F when it comes to funding effort compared to funding ability. The researchers looked at Gross State Product and Personal Income data in order to determine a state’s funding ability then looked at dollars spent per $1000 (in either GSP or Personal Income) to determine effort. Tennessee spends $29 on schools for every $1000 generated in Gross State Product. When it comes to Personal Income, Tennessee spends just $33 per $1000 of average personal income. That’s a rank of 42 in both.
Then, the report looks at wage competitiveness — how much teachers earn relative to similarly-educated professionals. I’ve written about this before, and Tennessee typically doesn’t do well in this regard.
According to the Report Card, Tennessee ranks 42nd in wage competitiveness, with teachers here earning 24% less on average than similarly-prepared professionals.
I noted recently that we’re also not doing much to improve teacher pay (again, despite Bill Haslam’s claims).
The good news: There’s an election this year. A chance for a new Governor and new members of the General Assembly to take a fresh look at education in 2019. Voters should ask those seeking these offices how they plan to improve Tennessee’s low rankings and move our state forward when it comes to public education. Clearly, we can’t pursue the same low dollar strategy we’ve been using.
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