The Tennessee Public Education Coalition and Pastors for Tennessee’s Children have an OpEd out explaining how Gov. Bill Lee’s lack of action on school funding means a tax increase for Tennessee families.
In the piece, the two groups repeat a familiar refrain: Tennessee schools are underfunded by $1.7 billion. Then, they note what that means for Tennessee families and communities:
a Tennessee family of four, on average, pays over $1,000 a year in additional local taxes to offset the state’s ongoing underfunding of K-12 education
Even with those local funds, Tennessee spends $4,300 less per student than the national average.
Lee’s reliance on local property tax revenue to fund schools is not surprising given his 2018 campaign based on privatizing public education. What should have county commissions and school boards screaming, though, is that our state is sitting on a giant surplus.
The two groups also explain why the current formula comes up short:
For instance, the BEP does not provide enough to cover teacher pay. TACIR and the Comptroller have pointed out that the BEP does not fund the actual number of teachers required for state-mandated class sizes leaving approximately 11,000 Tennessee teachers to be covered exclusively by local taxpayers, with no state contribution.
In addition, the BEP Review Committee, which provides lawmakers with a list of funding deficiencies every year, reports that the 2021 average Tennessee teacher salary was $55,917, but the BEP funds only $48,330 per teacher, resulting in a $7,587 gap in state funding per teacher.
This means local taxpayers cover both the cost of an additional 11,000 teachers outside the BEP, and the $7,587 shortage in funding per teacher.
Tennessee is NOT investing in teachers – the essential component of public education. There are not enough teachers to meet local needs and the funds from the state fail to provide adequate salaries. This begins to explain the current teacher shortage crisis.
While districts and public education advocates continue to highlight the unfairness and inadequacy of the current system, Lee is busy giving huge raises to corrections officers – sure, that’s a pay raise that’s needed, but it leaves teachers behind.
The current state minimum salary schedule for teachers sets the minimum salary for a Tennessee teacher at $38,000.
A Tennessee teacher with a bachelor’s degree would need to work for 10 years in order to achieve a mandated minimum salary above $44,000.
Now, however, brand new correctional officers will earn more than teachers with 10 years of experience. Yes, corrections officers deserve a raise.
Your taxes are higher to pay for Bill Lee’s refusal to invest in schools. Schools can’t find or keep teachers because Bill Lee refuses to use a $3 billion+ budget surplus to invest in schools. Bill Lee’s campaign in 2018 promised privatization paid for by local taxes – on this, he’s delivered.
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