Disability advocates raise concerns about Tennessee's proposed education funding formula

Disability Funding
Posted at 4:58 PM, Mar 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-16 07:54:03-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Part of Jeff Strand's job with the Tennessee Disability Coalition is making sure state lawmakers strike the right balance.

"I want to be very clear, a weighted funding formula is far, far, far better than the [Basic Education Program]," Strand said. "The thing that concerns us, however, is the way the mechanism they’ve chosen to build their weights around."

Under the proposed Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement Act (TISAA), a school gets funding based on student needs. The more needs a student has, the more funding a school gets, which is where it could get problematic.

"But what the weights do is they incentivize schools to provide more services perhaps when they wouldn’t be needed, which would then increase the placement. When you increase the placement, that means you’re taken out of the general education classroom and put in a special education classroom," Strand said.

Strand is worried that could restrict access for students who need a more inclusive classroom and take away students that belong in general classrooms.

"There’s all sorts of research that shows that students with disabilities and students without disabilities benefit from being in the same environment, in the same class. They learn from each other, they bring different things to the table, and it really is the best school model for all students," he said.

What the TDC prefers instead is a matrix model, adopted by the state of Florida.

"So it accounts for the cost of these specific services but it doesn’t incentivize teachers to give them more services, which would then end up in a more restrictive environment," said Strand. "I think TISAA [is] the right direction, it’s just a matter of getting the details straight."

The Tennessee Disability Coalition is also open to an auditing system to make sure that special education programs don't put too many students in those classrooms in order to get funding.

The bill is on the docket for Tuesday's House K-12 Subcommittee.