Senators: Increased student funding key to successful education reform

‘There’s no mystery’ why schools struggle, Tennessee ranks 2nd to last in the Southeast for student funding

NASHVILLE — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee is kicking off a ​review of the state’s Basic Education Program(BEP), the ​​formula used to distribute state funding to school districts. But Senate Democrats say the most important reform is addressing systemic underfunding.

Tennessee ranks 45th in the nation for per pupil student funding, according to research compiled by the National Education Association. Tennessee ranks second to last in the Southeast for its investment in students — only ahead of Mississippi.

Sen. Jeff Yarbro issued a statement following the announcement:

The real problem here isn’t the complicated formula to split up the BEP funds. The problem is the uncomplicated decision to invest fewer dollars in education than basically every other state. We’ve reviewed, task forced, and blue ribbon commissioned the BEP to death over the last two decades. There’s no shortage of solutions, so much as there’s a shortage of will to follow the recommendations we’ve received.

While we’re all for adjusting the components and calculations to address inequities and outdated assumptions, the real question is our timeline for investing an additional almost $2 billion each year in schools — so that we might catch up to our neighbors and might get out of the bottom ten list for per pupil funding.

Sen. Raumesh Akbari, a member of the Senate Education Committee who has called for major investments in public education for the past two years, issued a statement:

I hope this new initiative adopts the investments in public education that our caucus has called for over the last two years — like teacher pay increases they actually feel, smaller classroom sizes for students who need it, and improved whole child services for all students.

But with all due respect, there’s no mystery why our students and teachers don’t have the resources they need to thrive. Our public schools are woefully underfunded by nearly $2 billion a year. Case in point: We’re even chasing Alabama on school funding.

This review has an opportunity to make a meaningful update to the distribution formula, but tackling the bigger problem of underfunding is key to making sure these reforms are successful.

Tennessee policymakers earned an “F” in school funding

In its Making the Grade 2020 school funding report, the Education Law Center compared Tennessee’s school funding to other states based on three factors — student funding, distribution and level of effort. These researchers gave the Tennessee legislature’s school funding commitment a failing grade.

Tennessee teacher and instructional salaries rank 41st in the nation

At $51,862 and $54,577 respectively, Tennessee public school salaries trail wages in most every other state. Even worse, after adjusting for inflation, Tennessee teachers earn LESS today than they did a decade ago, according to [2021 Rankings and Estimates Report; pg. 25, 24, 44, 45; nea.org]

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