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As session starts, school funding is top of mind for Tennessee lawmakers

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Posted at 4:56 PM, Jan 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-12 09:52:18-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Tennessee could see big changes to the current Basic Education Program funding formula in 2022, though some are skeptical it means the system is better.

For months the state's top education officials have looked at the 30-year-old formula. Gov. Bill Lee said in December that the state may start from scratch with a new "student centered" formula.

That sparked concern from state Democrats who were opposed to the school voucher plan.

However, Tuesday, state House Speaker Cameron Sexton said that idea is off the table for school reform.

"I think [Gov. Bill Lee] ruled that off. I think this is totally independent of that," Speaker Sexton said.

Sexton said there could be an increase in the school system budget.

However, state Democrats said that increase needs to be dramatic to catch Tennessee up to other states.

"There's a lot of talk about changing the formula, but if you're not going to put two billion dollars into the system to make sure you've got adequate dollars, you're really just moving the deck chairs around instead of moving the direction of the boat," said Nashville Democrat Sen. Jeff Yarbro.

The BEP has been reportedly underfunded through the years. Yarbro said to get the state out of the bottom 10 for funding, it would take a substantial sum.

Speaker Sexton said he hasn't spoken with TN Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn about what the student centered model may be. As the state house and senate enter budget talks, a clearer picture should emerge.