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Tennessee leaders seek public opinion on how state funds education

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The Tennessee Department of Education is seeking public input on its recently announced plans to overhaul its education funding formula. Tennessee students, parents, and education experts interested in helping to review and revise the state’s funding formula can apply to be on one of 18 education subcommittees that will meet online and in person over the next three months.

The groups range from the student engagement subcommittee to the fiscal responsibility group to the principal advisory team. According to a statement, subcommittee members will meet with Tennessee Department of Education employees to discuss how to strengthen education.

On Friday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee unveiled his plan to spearhead a “rigorous review” of Tennessee’s nearly 30-year-old public education funding formula.

“We all recognize that a funding formula that has been in place for 30 years likely has a lot of opportunity for improvement. Our schools are significantly different than they were 30 years ago. Our approach to learning is different than it was 30 years ago,” said Lee, during Friday’s press conference.

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“There have been best practices across the country that have been implemented that we can learn from as we modernize and update our funding approach,” he added.

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The State Collaborative on Reforming Education, a research and advocacy group commonly known as SCORE, released a statement following the governor’s speech saying that the funding review is well-timed to help address the lingering disparities in education exacerbated by the pandemic.

Lee said that education funding should be a transparent and accountable “return on investment” and added that funding should not follow school systems but instead follow students. Several organizations have promoted this student-centered funding model for more than a decade, including the American Legislative Exchange Council, commonly known as ALEC, a conservative organization that drafts model legislation for lawmakers.

In a policy draft from 2010, the organization stated, “A student-centered public school finance model also compliments efforts to expand private-school choice because it is grounded in the principle that public funding is first and foremost for the benefit of students not school systems.”

Lee’s pivot to student-centered funding comes as the Tennessee Supreme Court is deliberating on the state’s appeal to have its overturned school voucher law restored. It also comes during an ongoing school funding lawsuit, which has stretched on for six years and now pits 147 school districts against the state.

Lee did not mention the lawsuits during Friday’s announcement, but he emphasized that he’s open to discussion and change. “Most important in the next weeks and months ahead is that we listen, it’s that we get input, it’s that we have feedback,” he said.

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To sign up for one of the 18 subcommittees below, click here.

Student-centered funding subcommittees

  • Student Engagement Subcommittee
  • Students with Disabilities and Gifted Students Subcommittee
  • English Learner Subcommittee
  • Economically Disadvantaged and Highly Mobile Students Subcommittee
  • Parent Choice and Voice Subcommittee
  • Teacher Advisory Subcommittee
  • Principal Advisory Subcommittee
  • School System Personnel Subcommittee
  • School System Leadership Subcommittee
  • Rural and Small District Subcommittee
  • Suburban Districts, Municipals, and Fast-Growing Communities Subcommittee
  • Urban District Subcommittee
  • Higher Education and Post-Secondary Readiness Subcommittee
  • Post-Secondary Readiness and the Business Community Subcommittee
  • Chambers of Commerce and Industry Subcommittee
  • Education Foundations Subcommittee
  • Regional Collectives and Advocacy Subcommittee
  • Fiscal Responsibility Subcommittee

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