Will Tennessee Leaders Finally Invest in Schools

Advocacy groups push funding boost amid giant surplus

Tennessee’s League of Women Voters (LWV) is joining a number of other public education advocacy groups in pushing for significant new investment in the state’s school system.

The LWV has noted:

Under the current formulation, the BEP allows for a per-student budgeted amount  that is $3,655 lower than the nationwide average, and lower than most southeastern states.  Because the BEP formula underfunds our public schools, it puts a heavy burden on communities  to supply the local funds necessary to provide an acceptable standard of public education for  students. 

The call from the LWV comes as the state’s Department of Revenue reports a huge surplus for February:

Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration Commissioner Butch Eley today announced that Tennessee tax revenues exceeded budgeted estimates in February. February revenues totaled $1.13 billion, which is $112.7 million more than the state received in February 2020 and $190.9 million more than the budgeted estimate. The growth rate for February was 11.06 percent.

Additionally, Tennessee stands to receive $2.6 billion for schools from the American Rescue Plan:

I guess Lee feels like it is a punishment for a state like Tennessee, which ranks 46th in education funding, to receive $2.6 billion to help our schools. Will he stand at the state line and stop the money from coming into our severely underfunded schools?

The bottom line: Bill Lee and his allies in the Tennessee General Assembly have consistently demonstrated they are unwilling to prioritize investment in our state’s schools. Even when there’s a huge budget surplus. Even when there’s big money coming in from the federal government. Even when schools can be properly funded and taxes can remain low. Even when making big investments in schools would help local governments both fund public education and keep property taxes low.

There’s really no other explanation for this except that in Tennessee, policymakers don’t actually believe public schools should be a priority.

In case you’re wondering about the federal stimulus money for schools, Matt Barnum does a nice job of breaking it down over at Chalkbeat.