But is it Adequate?

Gov. Bill Lee’s signature education funding reform initiative passed today even as concerns have been raised that the plan will do little to fundamentally alter the status quo for school districts in a state consistently ranked 45th in the nation in school funding.

In response to the legislation, advocates with the Southern Christian Coalition suggested the plan does not meet its stated goals and even noted analysis suggesting the formula will mean a smaller percentage of state funds for 91 school districts (roughly 2/3).

“I call on our Legislature to adequately fund our public schools, and to invest in and care for the children of Tennessee, knowing that they are each made in the image of God,” said Rev. Laura Becker, Pastor of Northminster Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga, and mother of one current student and one graduate of Hamilton County Schools. “All Tennessee students deserve the right to high quality and fully funded education that prepares them to achieve their full potential and successfully contribute to our communities and to our state. Unfortunately, Governor Lee’s proposed education funding plan called TISA doesn’t provide the funding necessary to address our teacher shortage, ensure students with special needs get the care they need, or ensure that every school has the resources they need to provide every child a quality education, so I call for a more just and equitable funding program.”

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An in-depth analysis of the reality of TISA funding also shows the plan comes up short in key areas – most notably hiring teachers and teacher compensation. Without significant investment on both fronts, it is unlikely the plan will move the needle relative to the stated goal of improved student achievement outcomes.

Districts get a lower percentage of state funds. The teacher shortage persists. Local property taxes will likely go up. That’s the TISA reality.

MORE EDUCATION NEWS

Groups Speak Out on School Library Censorship

A group of Tennessee parents and public school students gathered at the Tennessee State Capitol this morning to express opposition to legislation that would effectively ban books from public school libraries by creating an “approved book list” developed by the Tennessee Textbook Commission.

At the event, Williamson County High School student Lindsay Hornick spoke about the importance of having a wide range of books in public school libraries.

Hornick said, ” Books allow us to learn about the world through a variety of lenses and create our own opinions on controversial topics. They teach us about the past in ways that explore the truth. No matter how difficult it may be to hear, the documented past allows us to learn and grow. It allows us to prevent tragedies from repeating.”

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The TISA Threat

The Tennessee Public Education Coalition is out with a piece on why Gov. Bill Lee’s school funding plan (TISA) is a threat to strong public schools in our state.

Here are some highlights:

Perhaps this year’s greatest threat to legislator incumbency is Governor Bill Lee’s new K-12 funding bill, which he calls the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement act, or TISA. In spite of continued statements from the governor and Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn that the administration’s “student-based” funding formula was developed in response to dozens of stakeholder meetings and hundreds of public comments, this funding plan is model legislation developed in 2010 by ALEC, the school privatizing think tank.

In spite of how this bill is being promoted, the primary purpose of this bill is to shift even more of the cost of K-12 education to local taxpayers.

The Tennessee Public Education Coalition has advocated for increased state funding for K-12 education for years. While the Governor’s plan appears to increase the total amount of funding for Tennessee schools, the Governor’s TISA bill actually would increase funding for vouchers and privately-run charter schools.

The state has the means to invest billions of new dollars in public schools. But as Commissioner Schwinn’s recent testimony and The Tennessean’s recent reporting have revealed, local governments eventually will be on the hook for additional local funding if TISA becomes law. And city and county governments do not have billions of dollars in surplus.

TISA’s increased local match requirements will lead to property tax increases that local governments and taxpayers will blame on the new school funding formula if it becomes law.

READ MORE in the Tennessean about why key public school advocates oppose TISA.

For more on TISA:

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Of Vouchers and School Takeovers

Nashville education blogger TC Weber has a couple of pieces out that break down Gov. Lee’s proposed school funding reform.

The bottom line: Be afraid, be very afraid.

I mean, if you like using public money to fund private schools OR if you’re a fan of the state taking over districts, this funding scheme is for you.

Here are a couple hits from TC’s analysis:

While we are on the subject of the funding bill, let’s flip to section 66. This is the portion of the bill that lists amendments to existing legislation. It reads as follows,

SECTION 66. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 49-10-1405(a)(1), is amended by deleting the language “the per-pupil state and local funds generated and required through the basic education program (BEP) for the LEA in which the student resides and is zoned to attend” and substituting “the total funding allocation that the student generates under the Tennessee investment in student achievement formula (TISA)”.

Did you get that?

Read it again.

I’ll wait.

Under current legislation, a student who qualifies for an  IEA, or disability voucher receives around 6k to use for qualified expenses. It’s long been argued more students haven’t taken advantage of the education account opportunity, because the number is too low to make an adequate investment in a different educational opportunity.

If the new law passes, that student will receive exactly the amount generated through the funding formula, potentially making a voucher worth $16k. If you think that won’t increase enrollment and eventually bleed into a full-blown voucher plan, think again.

So, it turns out Mike Stein was right to warn about a BEP Voucher Plan.

READ MORE from TC on the funding formula and vouchers >

Then, TC digs into the section in the reform bill about school takeovers:

(c) An LEA that operates or authorizes a public school that receives a D or F letter grade pursuant to § 49-1-228 may be required to appear for a hearing before an ad hoc joint committee of the general assembly to report on the public school’s performance and how the LEA’s spending decisions may have affected the ability of the LEA’s public schools to achieve certain performance goals. The speakers of the senate and house of representatives shall each appoint members to serve on the joint ad hoc committee from the members of the general assembly serving on the education or finance committees of the senate and house of representatives. At the conclusion of a hearing conducted pursuant to this subsection (c), the joint ad hoc committee may direct the department to impose one (1) of the following corrective actions:

(1) Require the LEA or public charter school to develop, submit to the department for approval, and implement a corrective action plan consistent with a corrective action plan template developed by the department. The department shall report to the committee regarding the LEA’s or public charter school’s implementation of the corrective action plan; or

(2) Appoint an inspector general selected by the comptroller of the treasury to oversee the LEA’s or public charter school’s academic programming and spending. The department shall report to the committee regarding the outcomes of the inspector general’s oversight. The department shall promulgate rules to effectuate this subdivision (c)(2) in accordance with the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act, compiled in title 4, chapter 5.(d) The department shall apportion the costs of implementing a corrective action imposed pursuant to subdivision (c)(2) between the department and the LEA on a case-by-case basis, subject to the approval of the joint ad hoc committee.

The desire for the state to takeover MNPS and SCS has long been the worst kept secret in town. This bill will provide the vehicle to take such action.

Never mind that the General Assembly passed legislation over half a decade ago that called for the creation of the A-F grading system, it’s never been implemented. as pointed out last year on the Senate floor. Now it’s suddenly going to be implemented and its first year out of the box it’ll have potentially dire consequences for districts.

MORE on ALL the requirements for districts included in the reform plan.

Then, there’s former Nashville school board member Amy Frogge. She also warns that the funding package may not be all rainbows and unicorns. In fact, it seems highly problematic for the future of K-12 public education in our state.

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