NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Tennessee continues to rank near the bottom in education funding. According to a new joint study, the state received an ‘F’ in current education investments. The report comes as Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn travels the state trying to sell a new funding formula idea.
Governor Bill Lee is leading the process of reviewing how Tennessee funds its schools through the Basic Education Program (BEP).
“We are and will look at pay and for funding broadly for public education, if we’re going to look at a new strategy for funding,“ Gov. Lee said following a series of budget meetings.
The review comes as both Republicans and Democrats look to improve educational outcomes.
“We’ve been needing to address the funding formula for years and years, and I felt like we shouldn’t wait any longer,” Gov. Lee said.
According to the Education Law Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center, Tennessee ranks 44th in the nation in current student funding.
“You know, we’re not keeping up with the cost of living for the folks doing the important job of educating our kids.” said Knoxville Rep. Gloria Johnson. “And it depends on which study you look at, we’re anywhere from 46 to 45th to 44th in funding, but the reality is whatever it is we’re in the very bottom.”
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The study indicates Tennessee spends about $4,000 dollars less than the national average on per-student funding. And when it comes to what is actually budgeted from the state for education, Tennessee ranks 47th in attempting to fund schools properly.
“We have the money to do what is needed, and we’re not doing it. One of the other things that they cited in that study was the fact that we aren’t funding equitably, and we know that for a fact,” Johnson said.
Rep. Johnson, a Democrat and former school teacher, said the goal shouldn’t be to slice the pie differently but to make a bigger pie.
“We’re underfunding our schools to the tune of almost 2 billion dollars, and we have got the money to invest in our schools. Right now our commissioner of education, Governor are going around talking about changing the funding formula,” she said. “We don’t need to change the formula; we need to put the money that is so desperately needed in our schools.”
The Education Commissioner will continue her town hall tour later this month in Gibson and Jackson counties.