'It's long overdue' Gov. Bill Lee seeks to change state BEP formula

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Posted at 6:42 PM, Dec 21, 2021

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The state will try to change its Basic Education Program (BEP) formula in 2022, though some are concerned about the intentions of Gov. Bill Lee.

Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn and Gov. Lee met Tuesday morning to discuss plans for an overhaul of the program.

For the past 30 years, Tennessee used the BEP formula to determine how much funding schools should get.

But by many accounts, it is flawed.

"If you ask superintendents across the state, there's not a lot of people who like it the way that it is," said Lee in a press conference after the meeting.

The governor wants to start over with something fresh for Tennessee.

He wants to switch to a "student-based funding" model.

"I think, for one thing, our school funding formula funds systems and it doesn't fund students," said Lee. "This is a student-based funding formula that is really different than a systems-based formula."

Some people, including opposition in the state legislature, think that's just a code word for school vouchers.

"What I saw was a very nebulous proposal and I think they know exactly what they're trying to do. I think they're trying to figure out how to message it so it sounds good," said Knoxville Democrat Rep. Gloria Johnson, who is also a retired teacher.

She fears the governor is working out a way to include more funding for charter and private schools into the plan.

She said the real solution is funding the school system with a billion more dollars at least.

"Right now, we are underfunding by $1.7 billion according to the eight schools in our southeast region — $2,000 per student behind Kentucky and Georgia," said Johnson.

Johnson believes the BEP does need to change but she says change needs to come without vouchers.

Tennessee ranks among the bottom states for school funding.

"It's about not just more money for schools but spending it well for schools. In order to do that we need to have an updated and modernized funding and distribution plan," said Gov. Lee.

The legislature passed a voucher plan under Lee's guidance. However, with the plan held up in court, Johnson wonders if this might be another way to make funding for students to attend charter schools a reality.

"Our teachers are currently making less today than they made 10 years ago," she said. "That is outrageous. When you consider cost of living, they're making less than they were 10 years ago."

Gov. Lee said starting over with a new plan could take months.