Tennessee leaders to review education funding formula

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Lee and Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn on Friday announced plans to review how the state funds its multibillion dollar K-12 education system.

Lee and Schwinn say they hope school leaders, families and other members of the public will provide their feedback on how the system can be improved over the next few months. While no firm timeline has been set yet, state officials say they want to present suggestions to the General Assembly by next year.

The state will hold public meetings, surveys and other events to gather input to help shape the recommendations. Lee said his team already had a few “suggestions,” but the Republican remained overall mum on what exactly he would change.

“K-12 funding is complicated, it’s bureaucratic. Everyone recognizes that our ... formula is one that few understand and many do not like,” Lee told reporters.

Known as the Basic Education Program, Tennessee’s school funding formula includes 45 components that are all used to determine how much funding each school should receive for teacher salaries and other expenses.

It’s long been criticized for being complicated and outdated since it was first adopted nearly 30 years ago. It’s even faced lawsuits led by school boards for falling short of Tennessee’s constitutional obligation to provide students with a “free, adequate, and equitable education.” One legal challenge, originally filed six years ago on behalf of more than half of the state’s school districts, is set to go to trial in February.

Democratic lawmakers on Friday quickly responded that the state needed more investment in the public education system.

“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,” said Democratic Sen. Raumesh Akbari, who sits on the Senate Education Committee.

The Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teacher organization, also called for a boost to school funding under any overhaul of the funding formula.