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While Advocates Push for School Funding, Tennessee Sits on Multi-Billion Dollar Surplus
Less than halfway through the year, state has amassed $1 billion in extra cash
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Tennessee continues to underfund public education, regularly ranking between 44th and 46th in the nation in school funding.
Tennessee also continues to experience record revenue surpluses. Last year, I wrote about the available $3 billion in surplus revenue.
Last week, as lawmakers returned to Nashville to get started on the 2023 session, advocates called on Gov. Lee and the General Assembly to finally pony up and fully fund public schools.
Rev. Jason Mikel, pastor of Jenkins Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Nolensville, said the state has a moral obligation to properly fund schools. Mikel and other pastors affiliated with the Southern Christian Coalition outlined their concerns:
"No matter where our children live, the color of their skin, their social situation, or anything else, every child deserves access to a high-quality education in their local public school," Mikel said. "Our communities are healthier, and our communities are stronger when public schools are allocated the resources they need to fulfill their calling. Yet our state ranks nearly last in financial funding for students, teachers, and schools. And it is that way because of the continuing decisions of our state leaders. Governor Lee and our Supermajority Legislature fuel divisions for the purpose of removing resources from our schools. They demonize teachers and librarians. (And who goes after librarians?) Yet they vie for control of our state's classrooms by unnecessarily burdening our educators with their political posturing.”
The call of the Southern Christian Coalition to fully fund Tennessee’s public schools comes as revenue reports indicate the state is on track for another surplus topping $2 billion.
As the Tennessee General Assembly returned to session last week, the Department of Finance and Administration released fiscal year-to-date revenue data indicating the state has already collected nearly $1 billion more than forecasted. The state, then, is on track to collect around $2 billion more than budgeted estimates.
The news comes as policymakers prepare to make decisions on Gov. Bill Lee's proposed budget and on funding key policy priorities.
The Department of Finance and Administration notes that collections for December were more than $200 million above what was budgeted.
Year after year - since 2015 - Tennessee has experienced dramatic revenue surpluses and year after year, state policymakers refuse to significantly boost funding for public schools.
Meanwhile, those advancing the interests of school privatization continue to find new ways to access taxpayer dollars - whether through aggressive expansion of charter schools or through growing the state’s school voucher scheme.
Earlier this month, I wrote about the issues that seem likely to top the education agenda at the legislature. So far, at least, one of those issues is NOT a drastic increase in dollars dedicated to public education.