NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — It’s been 30 years since lawmakers wrote the funding formula for public schools in Tennessee. Now, Gov. Bill Lee wants to update how the state spends millions of dollars on K-12 education.
However, Lee is pushing back at those who say this is another attempt at school vouchers. The governor is arguing for changes to it without specifics, as of yet, but some say it makes no difference if more money is not put on the table.
Lee charged Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn with traveling across the state and engaging education stakeholders to rewrite the decades-long school funding strategy.
“This is a student-based funding formula that is really different than a systems-based formula,” Lee said.
Parents have expressed some concern about the potential changes.
“I think first is a concern of, ‘is this really about vouchers and (education savings accounts)’,” Schwinn said during a conversation with Lee.
The governor has been a proponent of school vouchers. The ESA program he pinned his name to is currently being held up in the state Supreme Court on its legality.
Tennessee’s 50th governor was quick to refute the claims.
“I think it’s important and I’ll just say this as we’re publicly here, I think it’s important that we address that because this public school funding is not connected to choice issues, it’s not connected to ESAs,” Lee said.
The governor is not committing to dramatically increase public school funding, which currently ranks 46th in the nation in per-student funding.
“We have increased funding every year since I’ve been here and we’ll continue to do that, but we don’t need to just keep putting money into a formula that is thirty years old and doesn’t match the needs of our kids today,” Lee said.
The Tennessee Education Association said in a statement more money is needed not just a different cut of the same pie.
“Until the state makes a significant increase in public education funding to address many challenges plaguing our schools, updating a formula will not get us where we need to be to provide the high-quality public education Tennessee children deserve,” the organization said.
The governor hopes to produce a new formula by the end of January.