# The Case for Vouchers

In an absolutely epic Twitter thread, Williamson County School Board member Eric Welch makes a case for vouchers. Actually, he makes a case for voucher-level funding for public schools. Welch uses math to make his case. Here are some examples:

Welch notes the significant funding gap between vouchers and the dollar amount per student Williamson County receives from the state based on the BEP formula. This is an important distinction. The BEP formula generates a per student dollar amount (currently \$7300) and then devises an amount owed to local districts based on each district’s ability to pay. So, in some districts, the state sends a lot of money and in others, like Williamson, not so much.

Factors involved in generating the total number are based on a school system’s average daily attendance. That number then generates a number of teachers, administrators, and other positions. The state funds each system’s BEP teacher number at 70% — that is, the state sends 70% of the average weighted salary (around \$45,000 currently) to the district for each teaching position generated by the BEP.

Let’s be clear: The BEP is inadequate. Every single district hires more teachers (and other positions) than generated by the BEP. Local districts fund 100% of those costs.

Before the state was taken to court over inadequate funding, the BEP Review Committee used to list a series of recommendations on ways to improve the funding formula to adequately meet the needs of our state’s public schools.

While routinely ignored by policymakers, this list provided a guide to where Tennessee should be investing money to improve the overall public education offered in our state.

Here are some examples from the most recent version of this list:

Fund ELL Teachers 1:20  — COST: \$28,709,000

Fund ELL Translators 1:200  COST: \$2,866,000

Instructional Component at funded at 75% by State  COST: \$153,448,000

Insurance at 50%  COST: \$26,110,000

BEP 2.0 Fully Implemented  COST: \$133,910,000

Some notes here –

First, BEP 2.0 was frozen by Governor Haslam as he “re-worked” funding distribution and supposedly focused on teacher pay.

Next, the state currently provides districts 45% of employee health insurance for ONLY the BEP -generated positions. Districts must fund 100% of the benefit cost for teachers hired about the BEP number.

Finally, beefing up the instructional component by 5% as recommended here would mean significant new dollars available for either hiring teachers or boosting teacher pay or both.

Here are some “wish list” items on teacher pay, which reflect that our state has long known we’re not paying our teachers well:

BEP Salary at \$45,447  COST: \$266,165,000

BEP Salary at \$50,447  COST: \$532,324,000

BEP Salary at Southeastern average \$50,359  COST: \$527,646,000

BEP Salary at State average (FY14) \$50,116    COST: \$514,703,000

These are FY14 numbers — so, that’s been a few years. Still, funding teacher pay at the actual average spent by districts (just over \$50,000 a year) would mean significant new funding for schools that could be invested in teacher salaries. We don’t fund teacher pay at the actual average, though, we fund it at a “weighted” average that is thousands less than this actual number. Then, districts receive only 70% of that weighted number per BEP position.

Making the large scale jump necessary to truly help direct state BEP dollars into teacher paychecks and provide a much-needed boost to salaries would cost close to \$500 million. Bill Lee’s budget this year provides a paltry \$71 million, continuing the tradition of talking a good game while letting teacher pay in our state continue to stagnate.

Here are some other recommendations — ideas that Welch suggests districts could pursue if only they were funded at the same level Bill Lee is proposing for private schools:

Change funding ratio for psychologists from 1:2,500 to 1:500  \$57,518,000

Change funding ratio for elementary counselors from 1:500 to 1:250  \$39,409,000

Change funding ratio for secondary counselors from 1:350 to 1:250  \$18,079,000

Change funding ratio for all counselors to 1:250  \$57,497,000

Change Assistant Principal ratio to SACS standard  \$11,739,000

Change 7-12 funding ratios, including CTE, by 3 students  \$87,928,000

New BEP Component for Mentors (1:12 new professional positions)  \$17,670,000

Professional Development (1% of instructional salaries)  \$25,576,000

Change funding ratios for nurses from 1:3,000 to 1:1,500  \$12,194,000

Change funding ratios for Technology Coordinators from 1:6,400 to 1:3,200  \$4,150,000

Increase Funding for teacher materials and supplies by \$100  \$6,336,000

Instructional Technology Coordinator (1 per LEA)  \$5,268,000

If you look at these numbers, you see that a state committee of professional educators (the BEP Review Committee) has been telling state policymakers that Tennessee needs to do more.

They’ve been saying it for years.

Now, we have a Governor who is suggesting that instead of spending state dollars to meet these needs, we’re going to spend them to prop up private schools with little to no accountability.

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## 2 thoughts on “The Case for Vouchers”

1. Lance

What Mr. Welch seems to misunderstand is that Lee is planning to use the BEP formula to fund the vouchers. Consequently, while the state will give \$7300 to each ESA, for Williamson County, only \$3400 will come from state coffers. The remainder will be supplied by County tax payers. This is how the the current ESA and charters are funded. The state gives each ESA \$7300, then subtracts the full \$7300 from what the county would otherwise earn from the BEP.

• That’s actually not true for this version of “vouchers” — in fact, the funds allocated are new state money outside the BEP formula, meaning each student accessing a voucher will receive \$7300 from the state.

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