A Bountiful Harvest

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee is seeking to reallocate the school funding pie in a state that historically earns low marks for its investment in schools. Now, the Sycamore Institute reports Tennessee has a significant surplus – both banked dollars and recurring money – that could be used to help address a range of priorities.

Governor Bill Lee and state lawmakers just used some of Tennessee’s largest ever budget surplus to fund a historically large incentive package for Ford Motor Company. Even after that deal, policymakers may still have at least $3 billion in unallocated funds to appropriate next year. This total includes a record-setting $2 billion for recurring items – and that’s before even speculating about routine revenue growth. For comparison, Tennessee’s total budget from state revenues this year was about $21 billion before the Ford deal passed.

Turns out, Tennessee continues to collect significantly more money than it plans to spend. Sycamore notes that through the first three months of the fiscal year:

  • Actual collections for October 2021 were about 22% higher than budgeted.
  • As of October 31, 2021, Tennessee had collected about 24% of the $16.5 billion in total budgeted revenue for the current fiscal year.
  • Collections through October were about $902 million higher (or 24%) than what was budgeted for the time period.
abundance bank banking banknotes
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The point is: Tennessee is overflowing with cash. It seems that a conservative government would use this opportunity to return the money “to the people” by way of key investments. Among these should be investing in our chronically underfunded school system.

Let’s face it: The GOP has been in complete control of Tennessee state government for a little over a decade now. During that time, we have consistently ranked between 44th-46th in school funding. We’ve had multiple failures of our state testing system. And, we now face a teacher shortage crisis.

But, good news abounds! We have a HUGE surplus – including billions in RECURRING revenue. This means we can invest in schools without raising taxes a single penny.

For a little more than half of the surplus, we could completely shore-up our K-12 funding system. After all, a bipartisan state research body found that schools in Tennessee are short-changed on the order of around $1.7 billion.

Of course, the track record on using surplus state funds for schools is, well, now all that good:

Significant surplus revenue has been a recurring story in recent years. It’s almost as if those in power are deliberately keeping money away from our public schools. It could be, as some have speculated, they are saving all that public money for a massive school voucher scheme.

2022 is an election year. When your lawmaker tells you they’ve voted to invest in our schools, ask them why we are still $1.7 billion behind. Ask them how much of the $3 billion surplus they want to invest in schools. Ask them to stop talking about what they’re going to do and start actually allocating dollars to education.

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

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