TC Weber: Thank You Sir, May I Have Another
TC Weber keeps a close watch on Tennessee education shenanigans, and in this post unpeels the layers of Governor Lee’s new funding proposal.
Watching the conversations around the Governor’s proposed reforming of Tennessee’s school funding formula(BEP) over the past several months has been like watching a production of Oliver Twist, with local LEAs and advocacy groups playing the role of Oliver, holding out their empty bowls to the Governor, “Please sir, I want some more.”
Like Oliver, they have been left to fend for themselves due to an underfunded BEP. And for the record, that’s not hyperbole it’s established fact based on The Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations releasing a report titled “K-12 Education Funding and Services.”
So, yes, it was time for a revamping of the BEP, or at a minimum fully funding it. This was the week that Governor Lee was supposed to ladle out the gruel.
Throughout the process, Commissioner Schwinn and Governor Lee promised a new formula that would be more transparent, simpler, and fund the individual student as opposed to blocks of students with shared needs. What was released yesterday, fails to deliver in all three areas.
The new legislation is so simple that the bill comes with a requirement that everybody involved in school budgets from locally elected officials down to district employees must take a course on school finance and pass a final exam by June of 2024.
This is farcical. What research supports which individual investments lead to wholesale improvement? What evidence does the TNDOE offer that demonstrates their ability tio recognize what investments lead to greater student outcomes?
Hopefully, Schwinn and her DOE will be taking the class because to date they’ve shown no indication that they know how to budget to increase student achievement. I can’t wait to see how they connect funding to student achievement considering that Schwinn and possee have slung so much at the wall in an effort to see what sticks, that it’s virtually impossible to attach student success to any one element. Though look for tutoring to be portrayed as playing a significant role in student outcomes, at the expense of actual teachers.
This professional development requirement also presents yet another prime opportunity for a friend of Schwinn to receive a financial windfall. Think how much it’ll cost for the state to fund the initial training, and then remember we are talking about positions that turn over on a pretty regular basis, so there will perpetually be a new class requiring training. Somebody is getting a yacht and maybe a vacation home in Tahoe out of this provision.
While much of the press has centered on the overall financial numbers increasing for districts, Per Chalkbeat,
Gov. Bill Lee has unveiled his proposal for overhauling K-12 funding in Tennessee, including a base of $6.6 billion to provide per-pupil funding to educate nearly 1 million public school students and $1.8 billion in extra support for students needing the most help.
But to be clear, while students earn weights for “unique learning needs” from 20% to 150%, we don’t know what needs qualify for what weights. A gifted child could qualify for 40% while an English learner could qualify for 20, or the other way around, I would argue that a child diagnosed with dyslexia should qualify for at least a level 7 weight, but should just “showing characteristics of” also earn that level? I don’t know, but the potential here is to encourage misdiagnoses in order to secure more funding, and I would caution against that.
I may be the only one, but assigning a dollar figure to individual students makes me very uneasy. It reeks of trying to use numbers to define individuals, an extension of what we already do with testing. Many school districts already engage in student-based funding for individual schools – an example would be MNPS – but I would argue that the jury is still out on the benefits of the practice. In the case of MNPS, it has not resulted in an overarching increase in student outcomes.
In their presentations to both legislators and the public, Lee and Schwinn chose to focus on what LEAs would be receiving, the actual legislation is much more focused on what Tennessee’s Boris and Natasha would be receiving – power and control.