Investment

Today, Democratic lawmakers at the General Assembly unveiled a series of bills designed to help increase investment in Tennessee’s public schools and address some long-standing deficiencies in the BEP formula.

The state’s bipartisan TACIR – Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Affairs – has said the formula comes up short by $1.7 billion.

Now, the state has a huge budget surplus and while Gov. Bill Lee has stubbornly refused to invest it in schools, Democrats are calling for those investments. Specifically, dramatic improvements relative to teacher compensation, increases in the number of school nurses and counselors, and other changes designed to make the most of this funding opportunity.

Here’s more from the Democrats on their plans:

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Meaningless

A new video from the Tennessee Education Association (TEA) explains why the phrase “fully funding the BEP” is meaningless.

More on School Funding

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Like Grasshoppers

A public school advocacy group in Ohio has taken notice of the rampant spread of school vouchers across the country and the role Tennessee is playing in the privatization game.

The Tennessee Supreme Court has agreed to hear the plaintiffs’ voucher appeal. In 2019 a trial judge declared the Tennessee Voucher law unconstitutional. Subsequently, the Tennessee Court of Appeals upheld the trial court decision. Now the pro-voucher crowd has been successful in getting the Supreme Court to hear the case.


Vouchers are spreading across the nation like the Kansas Grasshopper Plague of 1874. (The insects ate all the crops, even wool off the back of sheep). Vouchers eat up the funds of public school districts.

It’s really no surprise that a guy who sent out a Christmas card lauding the success of his voucher appeal would be this persistent in pursuit of privatization.

And of course, Gov. Bill Lee has been a long-time supporter of vouchers and a long-time skeptic of public schools.

Since 2012, DeVos has provided just under $100,000 to the Tennessee organization. She’s been joined by some key local donors, including Lee Beaman and Bill Lee. Yes, since 2012, Bill Lee has given $11,000 to the Tennessee Federation for Children, the state’s leading political organization supporting school vouchers.

Lee has consistently and publicly supported voucher schemes. That’s why I’m puzzled when I hear some local elected officials express support for both Bill Lee and public schools – it would seem the two are mutually exclusive.

Bill Lee renewed his commitment to fast-tracking the privatization of public schools in a speech in Jackson where he laid out his policy goals for 2020. Lee doubled-down on support of a voucher scheme that is dividing the state Republican Party. 

Lee has also been an advocate of silencing school boards, embracing a proposal by former state Rep. Jeremy Durham that would allow County Commissions to override board decisions when it comes to advocacy.

So, in Bill Lee, Tennesseans have a candidate for Governor who has expressed unqualified support for a voucher program that has failed in Indiana, Ohio, and Louisiana and that will almost certainly increase state and local costs. Additionally, he wants to be sure local elected officials can’t bring a strong voice of opposition to this proposal.

That’s why I remain shocked that some board members and other elected officials express surprise at Lee’s refusal to invest in public schools even when the state is swimming in cash.

Even though as early as 2016, Bill Lee was extolling the virtues of school voucher schemes and even though he’s a long-time supporter of Betsy DeVos’s pro-voucher Tennessee Federation for Children and even though he has appointed not one, but two voucher vultures to high level posts in his Administration, it is somehow treated as “news” that Bill Lee plans to move forward with a voucher scheme agenda in 2019.

Dear public school supporters: Bill Lee is not your friend. He has never been your friend. He will not be your friend in some magical future world.

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Over a Billion

The surplus for the current fiscal year is now over $1 billion with six more months to go, according to figures released by the Tennessee Department of Revenue. This announcement comes as the Sycamore Institute recently released an analysis demonstrating that lawmakers will have at least $3.1 billion in “excess” or unplanned revenue with which to budget in the current cycle.

The figures for January indicated revenue coming in at $380 million above projections. This prompted TEA President Beth Brown to point out that the January surplus alone is three times what Gov. Lee has proposed investing in teacher pay this year.

https://twitter.com/TEA_teachers/status/1360380933648572416?s=20

Lee has shown no indication he plans to make any bold or meaningful investment in public schools, instead preferring to maintain the status quo of an underfunded school system.

The last decade has seen Tennessee’s Republican leadership consistently demonstrate that public schools are not a funding priority.

In fact, the Education Law Center has released a report noting that from 2008 to 2018, school funding in inflation-adjusted dollars in Tennessee actually decreased by $1,065 per pupil. To put it another way, had school spending kept up with inflation, our schools would see an additional $1 billion in state investment.

This figure would come close to filling the $1.7 billion gap in the current BEP funding formula.

As Brown notes, with the surplus this year and projected revenue for the FY 2022 budget, Tennessee could easily fill that gap.

I want to point this out ONE MORE TIME: We can add at least $2 billion to our investment in schools and do so without raising anyone’s taxes. In fact, doing so would likely help keep local property taxes down for some time to come.

So, the question remains: Does Gov. Bill Lee want to invest in Tennessee’s public schools? Does the Tennessee General Assembly want to use this special opportunity to right the wrongs of the last decade of underfunding? Do our policymakers want us to remain 46th in school funding or do they want the reality to match their rhetoric? Will they show that students matter and that our communities deserve excellent schools?

This is like pushing the “easy button.” No new taxes, a big investment in schools, making Tennessee a place where public education is a top priority – all without raising taxes one cent.

If the current leadership won’t fund public schools under these conditions, they never will.

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Gibson Named TEA Executive Director

The Tennessee Education Association (TEA) has named Terrance Gibson its new Executive Director.

Here’s the press release:

The Tennessee Education Association has named Terrance J. Gibson as its new executive director effective immediately. Gibson has been serving as interim-executive director since March of 2020.

“Terrance has spent his entire career in service to Tennessee students and educators,” said TEA President Beth Brown. “The TEA Board of Directors and I are confident he will be a dedicated and effective leader as TEA continues our fight for the students, educators and public schools of Tennessee.”

Gibson, a Memphis native, has worked for TEA for more than 20 years supporting thousands of teachers, school administrators, education support professionals, and students. He has worked at all levels of the association from a student campus president, to coordinating instructional and professional development models, to more recently serving as Assistant Executive Director. Prior to his work with the association, Gibson was a classroom teacher in Metro Nashville Public Schools.

“My commitment to the success of the Tennessee Education Association has been unwavering for more than two decades and will continue as I take on the role of executive director,” said TEA Executive Director Terrance Gibson. “I am proud of the hard work our members and leaders are doing during unique and unprecedented times. Through collaboration with the TEA Board and staff, we will continue to work in the best interest of our members and students. I am committed to ensuring that TEA is on a path toward protecting and advocating for students, the teaching profession, and our members. We will promote, advocate and lead the profession!”

In addition to his work in public education, Gibson has worked with non-profit organizations such as 100 Black Men, and holds professional memberships in Phi Delta Kappa, National Staff Association for the Improvement of Instruction (NSAII), ASCD, Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), The Legacy Education Foundation (501c3) and the National Education Association. He also belongs to Alpha Kappa Mu Honor Society, Golden Key Honor Society, and is a life member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated.

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A Special Response

In response to legislation passed during Gov. Bill Lee’s not so special session on education, the Germantown Board of Education is making a request for immediate corrective action. That is, the Board wants the legislature to remedy harms (unintended?) caused by the bills the Lee Administration pushed.

Regarding the TCAP/TNReady testing legislation, the Board has the following response:

Regarding the ill-advised third grade retention bill, the Board says:

Here’s the deal: These pieces of legislation are bad news for districts and for the students they serve. Had Gov. Lee consulted actual school board members or educators, he would know this. He did not. He routinely ignores the concerns of teachers and the needs of students in order to serve an agenda dictated by an overwhelming urge to privatize. That at least one school district is speaking up is important. I would expect more will do the same.

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Always on the Attack

Sen. Brian Kelsey of Shelby County took some time today to attack the Shelby County Schools and get in a jab at the teachers union. He never misses a chance to attack public schools or the educators in them.

Here’s the video:

This is the same guy who sent out a Christmas card crowing about his legal work to voucherize public schools.

This is also the same Brian Kelsey who led efforts to eliminate the Hall Income Tax and $200 million a year in revenue for the state. Then, the issue was what to do with repeated years of surplus revenue. Kelsey’s answer was NOT to invest it in schools, but instead to create a tax giveaway for investors.

Brian Kelsey does not and has not supported our state’s public schools. Now, he’s using his position as chair of the Senate Education Committee to attack public school teachers. In other Kelsey news, he’s the lead sponsor of legislation that would undermine the ability of working Tennesseans to join a union.

MORE ON KELSEY:

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Yarbro Calls for BEP Update

Following Gov. Bill Lee’s disappointing State of the State address during which he revealed a status quo budget when it comes to public schools, state Sen. Jeff Yarbro of Nashville called on the Lee Administration to use the opportunity of a huge budget surplus to update the BEP.

Yarbro is right, of course. The BEP woefully underfunds Tennessee schools. Back in 2014, the BEP Review Committee highlighted a long list of needs.

Since then, the problem has only gotten worse.

MORE on the BEP

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Underwhelming

Gov. Bill Lee delivered his State of the State address tonight and surprising exactly no one, he failed to make bold new investments in public education in spite of a record surplus in excess of $3 billion.

Instead, Lee proposed continuing to “fully fund” the wholly inadequate BEP formula to the tune of an additional $71 million and add $120 million to the teacher compensation component of the BEP. That’s essentially a 4% increase in the BEP allocation NOT a 4% raise in actual teacher compensation.

To be clear, the state needs $1.7 billion to adequately fund the BEP and Lee is proposing adding $71 million. If you add the teacher compensation element to this, you get $191 million. Or, roughly 10 percent of what is actually needed.

Here’s what Tennessee Education Association President Beth Brown had to say regarding Lee’s proposal:

Gov. Lee’s proposed increases for public education is not enough to meet current needs and falls far short of what was possible with record state revenue surpluses and collections. Tennessee ranks 46th in the nation on funding per pupil, only ahead of Mississippi and well behind Alabama, Arkansas, and every other southern state. Nothing the governor outlined in his budget changes this intolerable fact. 

Long before the pandemic hit our state, our public schools were already suffering under a plague of chronic underfunding. It is irresponsible and harmful to Tennessee children for Gov. Lee to continue this pattern of insufficient state investment in our schools, especially at a time when Tennessee has the largest revenue surpluses in state history. We can and must do better for our students.     

TEA understands the budget as outlined may not be the same at final passage. As record surpluses continue, TEA will work to see the current budget for K-12 increased.

A significant increase in public education funding could address many challenges plaguing our schools, including not having enough fulltime nurses and counselors, unstaffed libraries with outdated resources, inequities and gaps in technology, and a diminishing talent pool of qualified educators due to low salaries and long hours.  

The Lee administration has an extra $3 billion to budget. There has never been a better time to make the necessary investment for Tennessee students, educators and schools.

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Pitiful

That’s how Tennessee Education Association (TEA) President Beth Brown described the state of education funding in Tennessee.

The Chattanooga Times-Free Press reports on Brown’s remarks, which come just as Gov. Bill Lee prepares to deliver his State of the State address tonight.

Brown notes:

“Our funding is so low the only neighboring state we beat is Mississippi,” wrote Brown, a Grundy County teacher. “To meet Kentucky’s per student investment, the state would need $2.6 billion; to match Arkansas, the increase would be $860 million; and to be on par with Alabama would require $560 million this year alone.”

Brown’s criticism of the state’s poor track record of investment is noteworthy as the state now sits on a $3.1 billion surplus due to better than expected revenue flow during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While Brown says the state can do more, the Tennessee House Republican Caucus is bragging about what are rather dismal numbers over the past 10 years.

Last year, Lee proposed a 4% increase the BEP allocation for teacher pay, but then cancelled that planned raise when the pandemic hit.

Even the state’s own bipartisan group of policymakers assigned to the task of assessing government policy as it impacts state and local issues suggests we need big, new investment in schools in order to adequately fund the BEP:

Still, I’ve yet to hear anyone in the state’s legislative leadership call for bold, new investments in public schools. Yes, a bipartisan group of policymakers has suggested that our school funding formula – the BEP – needs $1.7 billion just to be adequate. Still, Gov. Bill Lee has not come out and mentioned that he’ll be proposing using these surplus dollars to fund schools.

Tune-in tonight and see whether Lee makes any attempt at meeting this challenge.

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