This article also appeared in The Tennessean on April 1, 2021
The state’s ongoing failure to fund schools has placed an undue burden on already-strapped local school districts, which have had to make up the difference, sometimes providing up to 60% of education costs.
Tennessee has long failed to adequately invest in its children, which is reflected in academic outcomes.
Tennessee spends only $7,400 per student, less than any of our neighboring states.
We rank 46th nationally in education funding.
Yet, Tennessee spends over $31,000 per year to incarcerate inmates. Imagine how much we could save if our leaders instead decided to truly invest in our children and set them up for success?
The state’s own commission, Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, TACIR, reports that the Basic Education Program, BEP, Tennessee’s K12 education funding formula, underfunds public schools by $1.7 billion per year.
So while politicians have been proudly proclaiming for 30 years that “the BEP is fully funded,” we know for a fact that Tennessee’s education system is not fully funded. The state’s ongoing failure to fund schools has placed an undue burden on already-strapped local school districts, which have had to make up the difference, sometimes providing up to 60% of education costs.
Our students deserve better
Our state is certainly able to bear the costs of an excellent education for each child. Our governor and legislature simply choose not to invest in Tennessee’s children. The Tennessee Department of Revenue reports that Tennessee’s surplus for the current fiscal year, with five months still to go, is now over $1.3 billion.
The Sycamore Institute’s recent analysis demonstrates that our lawmakers will have at least $3.1 billion in “excess” or unplanned revenue to budget in the current cycle.
Tennessee also has $7.5 billion in cash reserves. January and February alone generated a $570.2 million surplus.
Tennessee is swimming in new revenue.
Inadequate school funding hurts children in every part of the state.
In low-income, rural counties, students suffer from inadequate facilities, overcrowded classes, and a lack of opportunities that parents in more prosperous counties take for granted: art, music, and advanced classes, career and technical training, and after-school activities like sports and clubs.
The BEP formula supports no art, music or physical education after fifth grade- when it is more important than ever to students. Despite lack of funding, physical education credits are required for graduation, while arts and music classes are proven to boost academic performance.
In more prosperous areas, local citizens pay higher taxes to fund essentials that the BEP formula doesn’t acknowledge. Parents often pay high fees for their children to participate in the extracurricular activities that make middle and high school enjoyable and motivate students. Less fortunate children often don’t get to participate because their parents can’t afford the fees.
Taxpayers also deserve good stewardship
Poor spending decisions have resulted in billions wasted on questionable state contracts with for-profit, outside vendors. The state continues to fork over money to these private business enterprises.
Testing companies, in particular, have received billions of taxpayer dollars, despite incompetency and failure to deliver. Schools waste months of instructional time each year on useless standardized testing, eliminating time for recess, physical education, the arts, enrichment activities and a well-rounded curriculum.
Taxpayer dollars are being spent on a no-bid contract to manage a defunct voucher program and most recently, a multi-million dollar, reading initiative contract tied to the Commissioner of Education’s husband. Meanwhile, the governor and legislature continue to mandate new and unfunded programs, forcing local communities to pass tax increases or skimp on basics that serve children’s needs.
School privatization schemes have further depleted resources.
Public education has become the last government honeypot for private profit, and the state has directed unprecedented resources toward privatizing schools.
Our elected officials and state leaders have done the bidding of out-of-state investors at the expense of children by passing laws to expand charter schools, repeatedly trying to open a path for vouchers, and setting up no-bid contracts to enrich preferred education vendors.
These schemes will strip our state bare and leave nothing for our communities. Politicians have tried all sorts of unsuccessful quick fixes to avoid actually investing in Tennesseans, and privatization is further starving our schools.
Our children need excellent schools, and our teachers need adequate pay. Public schools need more resources – social workers, school nurses, counselors, and adequate support staff.
With tax revenues exceeding state expenses by more than $2 billion per year and more than $7 billion cash reserves, there is no longer any excuse for failing to invest in our children.
Governor Lee must amend his education budget prior to the end of the legislative session. Please call Governor Lee’s office and your state representatives now.
Tell them to invest in Tennessee’s public schools, and show they care as much about our children as we do.
Our children are worth it.
Signed by the Tennessee Public Education Coalition and Pastors for Tennessee Children
Chattanooga: Rev. Laura Becker, Rev. Dr. William Terry Ladd III,
Clarksville: Rosa Ponce
Dickson: Larry Proffitt
Franklin: Brad Fiscus, Dr. Tammy Lipsey, Patty Daniel
Germantown: Terri Harris
Hendersonville: Sibyl Reagan
Johnson City: Paula Treece
Kingsport: Vicki Johnston, Susan Lodal, Juanita Mitchell Heather Wolf
Knoxville/Knox County: Candace Bannister, Tanya Coats, Dr. Robert Kronick, Lance McCold, Jennifer Owen
Memphis: Charles Everett, Stephanie Love, Peg Watkins
Nashville: Amy Frogge, Mary Holden, Rev. David Kidd, Jill Speering
Oak Ridge: Angi Angle
Scott County: Steven Rodgers
Tipton County: Lee-Ann Nolan