The Tennessee General Assembly this year approved changes to the state’s school funding formula (the BEP) and at the same time, refused to appropriate sufficient funds to pay for the changes.
As a result of this refusal, MNPS is suing the state and demanding full funding of the formula.
The state’s response is pretty remarkable. State lawyers maintain that even though new funding ratios are now state law, the state doesn’t have to follow this law.
Grace Tatter reports:
Metro Nashville Public Schools, which serves about a third of the state’s ELL population, is seeking a court order demanding that the state provide the district with funds promised under its recently revised funding formula known as the Basic Education Program, or BEP.
State lawmakers voted this year to increase ELL funding based on a 1:20 student-teacher ratio instead of the previous 1:30 ration, but only provided Nashville with money for a 1:25 ratio. That’s about $4 million short of what was promised this school year, say Nashville school leaders.
Attorneys for the state say Tennessee isn’t obligated to follow through with its own spending plan — and that Nashville doesn’t have the grounds to seek the order in the first place.
The state doesn’t have to follow through with its own spending plan? Then why even have a spending plan? The state adopted a new funding formula and put new funding ratios into Tennessee Code. But now the state is saying they don’t actually have to follow the laws they passed.
Perhaps what’s most frustrating about this entire situation is that Tennessee has a $925 million budget surplus this year. That’s following a $1 billion surplus last year.
Yes, we have the money to fully fund the formula. Instead, lawyers are now arguing that policymakers are not obligated to follow a formula they proposed and adopted. That’s a pretty strange defense.
The legislature could have phased-in the ratios. Or adopted different, more “affordable” ratios. But they didn’t. Now, the state doesn’t want to be held accountable for meeting the ratios Governor Haslam suggested and the General Assembly adopted. What other laws does the state view as mere suggestions?
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