Tennessee lawmakers question new funding plan for school districts

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Posted at 7:42 PM, Mar 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-15 06:37:05-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Lawmakers took a hard look Monday at Gov. Bill Lee's new education funding formula.

The Department of Education addressed questions at a Senate Committee hearing.

Some aren't convinced it will work as well as they hoped.

The new Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA) promises to have money following students.

For two hours in the senate education committee, lawmakers from both parties spoke with state education commissioner Penny Schwinn.

"You are telling me if we want to put $100 million in the base, we would have to appropriate $250 million?" questioned Republican Sen. Bo Watson.

There was some confusion about how increases to the plan would be funded in the future.

Each student would have base funding of $6,860, and there are percentage increases for a specific child's needs.

They're referred to as "weights."

That's where the confusion arose in the senate committee.

Lawmakers asked — while funding the base amount for each student — is there additional money needed to be allocated to weights?

Watson wanted to make sure everyone on the committee understood.

"It's really, if we want to appropriate X amount in the base, we have to appropriate for the effects of X amount in the base on the weights. Plus the effect on the direct funding if that's 100%," said Watson.

Commissioner Schwinn replied that is correct.

The state House asked questions about the plan last week.

Nashville Democratic Rep. John Ray Clemmons said he's skeptical of the plan after talking with Schwinn.

"I would encourage every single Tennessean to ask their legislator what is in this legislation and how, whatever Bill Lee is promising is accomplished in the legislation," Rep. Clemmons said. "I guarantee you, their legislator can't tell them. And because it's not there and because it's not feasible."

Rep. Clemmons believes the funding for the new idea may be too little.

He suggested simply increasing the current formula's funding while lawmakers work more on making sure this plan will succeed.

There's also the issue of the potential for tax increases at the local level.

Gov. Lee said no tax increase is required for this program until 2027.

Commissioner Schwinn said an increase could happen sooner if the funding formula doesn't change.