Get Those Kids a Dome
Tennessee Governor offers innovative approach to student achievement
While Tennessee consistently receives low grades on its investment in schools and similarly low overall rankings in terms of student achievement, there is hope on the horizon.
For starters, the state has a multi-billion-dollar surplus that only continues to grow.
In fact, the Department of Finance and Administration reports that the projected surplus is getting very, very large:
Year-to-date revenues for six months were $2.15 billion more than the budgeted estimate. The general fund recorded $2.02 billion in revenues more than estimates, and the four other funds totaled $126.7 million more than year-to-date estimates.
A state with one of the lowest investments in public education in the country now has a record budget surplus. This, of course, means Tennessee could make great strides in shoring up an education budget that can best be described as severely lacking without raising taxes one dime. In fact, investing in schools with new state money would also have the added benefit of keeping local property taxes low. It’s a policymaker’s dream.
That’s why Gov. Bill Lee has announced his definitive TISA plan - Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement.
Apparently, a key element of that plan was just announced today:
A $500 million investment in a domed stadium in Nashville for the Tennessee Titans.
Sure, that really has nothing to do with student achievement or funding schools or anything at all related to education. It does, however, continue a trend of placing just about everything else above public schools when it comes to Lee’s priorities.
While we’re on the subject, let’s examine the reality of Lee’s TISA school funding plan:
First, it does nothing to shore up the shortage of teachers needed to adequately support students now. That is, according to both TACIR and the Comptroller, Tennessee districts hire MORE teachers (11,000 more, to be exact) than the current formula funds. Guess what? TISA does nothing to change that. There is no indication that the weights will mean more teachers hired and supported by state funding.
Next, TISA does nothing to boost overall teacher pay. Sure, TISA “allows” lawmakers to earmark certain funds to give raises to “existing” teachers, but that doesn’t mean they will. Nor does it mean those raises will be significant. This year’s $125 million set aside for teacher compensation will mean what is effectively a 2-3% raise for most teachers. Based on current inflation rates and rising insurance premiums, this essentially amounts to a pay cut.
While the plan doesn’t address the shortage of teachers or teacher compensation or local costs for hiring/retaining teachers, it does raise local property taxes.
Meghan Mangrum in The Tennessean offers an analysis of how local property taxes would increase under TISA:
“Under TISA, the required local match for Davidson County is anticipated to increase by $35 million between FY23 and FY24, while the state’s investment in Nashville’s students will only increase by $12.6 (million) under the projections they have provided,” spokesperson Sean Braisted said in an email.
And that’s just Nashville. 28 districts will have to increase local contributions (raise taxes) beyond current levels in FY 2024. Then, in FY 2027, after TISA’s hold harmless expires, it is likely many more districts will see increased costs.
TC Weber dives deeper into the funding issue – the bottom line: Your local taxes will likely go up to fund TISA.
Never, fear, though: The Titans will have a new, domed stadium and Nashville may one day host the Super Bowl. Surely, that’s worth putting off meaningful investment in schools just a little longer.
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