Local legislators say they support Gov. Bill Lee’s calls for an in-depth review of the state’s Basic Education Program.
The governor and state Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn announced last week that state officials, parents and educators will begin “a rigorous review” of Tennessee’s funding formula for K-12 public education. Lee noted that the BEP has not been “meaningfully updated” in nearly 30 years.
The level of funding distributed under the formula is an amount the state has defined to be sufficient to provide a basic level of education for Tennessee students. This basic level of funding includes both a state share of the BEP and a local share of the BEP.
State Rep. Tim Hicks, R-Gray, said the BEP had just been implemented when his father, the late state Rep. Bobby Hicks, first took office in 1992.
“Just think about how much has changed in this state and how education operates today,” Hicks said. “Yes, it’s definitely time rethink the BEP.”
He said the current BEP funding model “is very complicated” and needs a thorough review by school officials, state lawmakers and other education stakeholders.
“We’ve got to come up with a way to get cities and counties closer together on school funding,” he said.
Hicks, a member of the House Education Instruction Committee, said he expects lawmakers will likely take a year to study the school funding issue before acting on legislative solutions in 2023.
“I think the governor is doing the right thing by asking for feedback from local school boards, superintendents and the public,” he said.
State Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, said there “has always been a great deal of confusion surrounding the complex way” the BEP funding formula works. There are 45 BEP components, most of which are based on a school district’s average daily student attendance numbers.
“Coming up with a much more transparent and less-complicated formula that treats all county and city systems fairly will be my goal,” said Crowe, who is a member of the Senate Education Committee. “One of the problems we have is in determining how to fairly measure how much of the formula should be supported by the state versus the local school district.”
Crowe said he and his colleagues must “find a better way to equalize the formula so that children and teachers in rural Cocke County have the same educational and salary opportunities as children and teachers do in Johnson City.”
State Rep. Rebecca Alexander, R-Jonesborough, said an overhaul of the BEP is “long overdue, but it will not be an easy task.” She noted it will take some time and effort among all the stakeholders to devise a school funding formula that is both equitable and practical.
“For example, there are so many discrepancies across the state when it comes to salaries for teachers,” Alexander said, noting the result is rural districts often “lose out on hiring” the most qualified teachers.
She believes such pay and funding issues are “very complicated and have a domino effect.” Alexander said that means lawmakers “will need to get into the weeds” to find solutions.