In Depth: Lawmakers considering overhauling state's funding formula for public schools

tennessee capitol hill
Posted at 5:59 PM, Oct 15, 2021

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Legislative committees are starting to meet to discuss how to revamp Tennessee's formula for how we fund public schools. The initiative began with news conference earlier this month with Governor Bill Lee. "Our BEP formula is one that few understand or many do not understand, many do not like. We have had complicated challenges with it," said Lee.

Those complications have lasted for nearly 30 years. The BEP, or Basic Education Program, is the existing formula for how public schools are allocated money. It's been on the books since 1992. "We are egregiously low in terms of how we fund public education. We are 44th in the nation," said Katie Cour, President and CEO of the Nashville Public Education Foundation.

In addition to more funding, Cour is pushing to change how the state allocates funding. According to the NPEF, the average school district in Tenn. gets 66% of their budget funded by the state, with the rest coming from local resources.

But for Metro Schools, the state only pays for 45%. That's because the current formula handicaps Davidson County for having a more affluent tax base. But the formula doesn't take into account that Metro has more students who have additional needs. "Some students cost more to educate than other students. An english learner, someone who doesn’t speak English as their first language coming into our school system. Special education students," said Cour.

If it feels like you've heard this conversation before, you probably have. Several Governors and General Assemblies have tried to adjust the formula before.

In 2007, Governor Phil Bredesen led efforts to make minor adjustments. His successor Bill Haslam did too. But Cour is hopeful Bill Lee will be the Governor to completely recreate the formula. "It’s a really promising sign that we’ll make some progress this year," she said.

Cour hopes Tennessee will follow what's called a student-centric model, that's already been adopted by dozens of other states. "Depending on the needs of that student, additional funds would be allocated for an individual student. Those funds would then flow to the district and then disseminated out to schools," she said.

NPEF leaders expect lawmakers will have a rough draft of a new formula within the next few months.