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Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announces review of how schools are funded in the state

Lee & Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn said the current funding framework, known as Basic Education Program (BEP), hasn’t been updated in more than 30 years.
Credit: Александр Бердюгин - stock.adobe.com

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Tennessee Governor Bill Lee wants a review of how funding is provided for schools in the state.

In a release Friday, Lee and Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn said they wanted Tennesseans to take part in the full review of the state’s education formula.

They said the current funding framework – known as Basic Education Program (BEP) - hasn’t been updated in more than 30 years, and they want to look at the possibilities of taking a “more student-centered approach.”

Lee and Schwinn said in the release that school leaders, elected officials, and the public will be able to take part in committees, surveys, meetings, and more in the coming months.

They said they want to focus on a strategy that includes the following:

  • Prioritizes students over systems
  • Empowers parents to engage in their child’s education
  • Incentivizes student outcomes
  • Ensures all students, regardless of location or learning needs, are served at a high-level
  • Reflects Tennesseans’ values
  • Creates flexible funding that prepare students for postsecondary success

“We will pursue a rigorous review of our state’s education funding to ensure we are properly investing in students and stewarding our resources well,” said Gov. Lee in the release. “I invite every Tennessee parent to tell us about their current experiences as well as their hopes for the education, environment and experience in our K-12 public schools.”

“Tennessee’s students are the future of our state, and we've got to be sure our public schools are well-equipped to prepare each and every one of them for lifelong success," said Commissioner Penny Schwinn. "Consistent with our focus to continuously improve the academic achievement of all Tennessee students, we are excited to open public conversations and discuss an investment strategy that aligns with those goals and values.”

Visit this webpage for more information and learn how to get involved: https://www.tn.gov/education/tnedufunding.

Fill out this form to sign up for consideration to join a committee and receive updates.

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The State Collaborative on Reforming Education released this statement from President and CEO David Mansouri about Governor Lee’s plan:

"In order to advance student learning, Tennessee needs a modernized school finance system that reflects the education needs of today.

Today’s announcement and this prioritization by Governor Lee and state leaders comes at the right time as we all help students and schools urgently recover from the disruption of the pandemic.

The state’s decades-long climb to reach the top of the nation in student achievement cannot be fully achieved without addressing the lingering disparities that are holding back a large proportion of the state’s 1 million students.

SCORE has spent the last year studying how education finance and school resources can be used to support better outcomes for students. Based on this research — looking at best practices from across the country, talking with school finance experts, studying financial modeling, and considering Tennessee’s unique needs — clear priorities emerge for how Tennessee could improve.

For all students to be successful, the state’s education funding formula should be driven by student need, provide more predictability and transparency, provide autonomy so that schools and districts can respond to local needs, and be modernized so that the funding formula corresponds with what is needed to provide an education for all students today.

Given Tennessee’s strong financial standing, the outcomes of Tennessee students, and research and data about what works to improve student outcomes, Tennessee is in a good position to address this timely issue. SCORE looks forward to engaging in the process that was announced today."

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Tennesseans for Student Success (TSS) released the following statement:

“Tennessee students deserve better than a nearly three-decades-old education funding formula. We applaud today’s announcement and view this action as an appropriate step in elevating the conversation around the Basic Education Program (BEP),” said Adam Lister, president and CEO of Tennesseans for Student Success. “As this process advances, Tennesseans for Student Success looks forward to challenging those involved to prioritize solutions that serve all Tennessee students.”

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Today, Victor Evans, Executive Director for TennesseeCAN, released the following statement:

"The pandemic and extended school closures have had a massive impact on students, particularly on the economically disadvantaged and Black and brown students who were already most at risk of falling behind academically.

We need a bold approach for the future, and we can't pay for that approach with an outdated funding system that prioritizes where a child lives over who a child aspires to be.

So we applaud Governor Lee, Commissioner Schwinn, and our legislative leaders for their leadership at this critical time to explore ways to adjust and modernize school funding for the future and to help quickly close the learning gaps that too many of our students now face."