TEA’s Brown Continues Call for School Funding Boost

As the General Assembly returns and prepares to consider Gov. Lee’s school funding reform proposal, Tennessee Education Association President Beth Brown continues a push to boost overall funding for public schools.

In a recent email to TEA members reporting on the committees reviewing the BEP, Brown said:

I am pleased to report there has been significant discussion around the need for increased funding for nurses; counselors, psychologists, and social workers; education support professionals; and assistance principals. In addition, we have discussed the real need for increases in educator salaries and benefits. All of these have been priorities for TEA for years.

But also noted:

Unfortunately, there has also been no indication that any changes to the funding formula will result in additional dollars being added to the state’s education budget. I and other stakeholders have stated repeatedly that unless there is an influx of funding into the education budget it doesn’t matter how we redistribute the funding to local school districts.

Meanwhile, state policy leaders like House Speaker Cameron Sexton have suggested that what is really needed is a proper incentive system for schools.

It seems the Speaker is not all that familiar with how schools actually work. The suggestion he makes here is that teachers and schools lack the proper incentive system. That is, schools fail students because there’s no threat of losing money no matter the outcome. This reflects a fairly depressing view of humanity. Further, it suggests that Sexton believes that teachers are currently “holding back” simply because they don’t fear punishment.

If only a punishment-based incentive system were in force, Tennessee teachers in every school system would rapidly accelerate learning, Sexton seems to be saying.

While policymakers pontificate about proper incentive systems, actual educators are practically begging for cash:

Former teacher Gabe Hart has a column in Tennessee Lookout that expresses his frustration at the current situation as it relates to teacher pay in Tennessee.

Here’s a bit of what he has to say relative to teacher salaries:

In December, in an attempt to recruit more corrections officers, Lee gave new officers a 37% raise which put the starting salary for a TDOC officer at $44,500.  First year teachers in Metro Nashville Public Schools will make $46,000 during their first year, and MNPS is one of the highest paying districts in the state.  First year teachers in Madison County make $38,000. The average first year teacher makes around $40,000 — almost $5,000 less than a first year corrections officer.  

I am fully aware that there are far more teachers in the state than corrections officers, and the funding comparison is apples and oranges.  Where I can push back, though, is that Tennessee has always been ranked between 44th-46th in the country when it comes to education funding

Oh, and did I mention there’s a growing teacher shortage?

As I noted in an earlier post:

Tennessee has tried a lot of education experiments in the last couple of decades. One experiment the state hasn’t tried? Actually investing large amounts of money in schools!

In the past, pleas for more cash would be met with resistance because investing more in schools meant raising taxes. Now, however, the state has a surplus in excess of $3 billion. This means we can fund TONS of improvements in public schools and not raise taxes one cent. Oh, and doing this with state surplus dollars also will help local governments keep property taxes low.

Of course, state Senator John Stevens seems to want to raise local property taxes:

“I’m not just going to give the locals a windfall by absorbing the costs that they’re supposed to pay for without them having some skin in the game,” Stevens said. “Because all the schools want to do is hire more people.”

I would remind Stevens and others that the Tennessee Constitution Article XI, Section 12 says:

The state of Tennessee recognizes the inherent value of education and encourages its support. The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools. 

It kind of seems like supporting and paying for public schools is the job of the General Assembly – it doesn’t mention anything about “costs” locals are “supposed to pay for.”

Maybe that’s why courts have ruled AGAINST the state of Tennessee in multiple school funding lawsuits since the 1990s.

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