Tennessee nears overhaul of K-12 education funding formula | Tennessee News
By KIMBERLEE KRUESI, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s Republican-dominated General Assembly neared the finish line Wednesday for an overhaul of the state’s formula to fund its multibillion-dollar K-12 education system. dollars, angering Democratic lawmakers who were abruptly blocked from floor discussion of one of the most sweeping pieces of legislation this year.
The State House and Senate each passed versions of the plan on Wednesday and are expected to settle differences as they approach the scheduled end of their month-long session.
Rewriting Tennessee’s school funding system has been a priority for Republican Gov. Bill Lee, who has urged lawmakers to approve his plan this session. Republicans rushed to the task, but some education advocates and Democratic lawmakers pleaded unsuccessfully for more time to flesh out details about the state’s most expensive budget item.
GOP leaders in the House infuriated Democrats on Wednesday by stalling floor debate on the proposed school funding mechanism. At the time, Democratic lawmakers were trying to pass a long list of possible amendments, some of them submitted by lawmakers’ voters.
Earlier in the week, members of the Republican House used similar procedural maneuvers to shut down debate on several controversial LGBTQ-related bills.
Although such maneuvers are allowed, legislators are generally reluctant to do so in order to provide transparency to the public who want to know what their General Assembly is approving or doping.
Representative John Ray Clemmons, a Democrat from Nashville, quickly called his Republican peers “cowards” in a tweet and said they were “too scared” to defend their bills.
The school formula measure passed 65-27 in the House with Republican Rep. Mark White, the bill’s sponsor, later joking he had prepared remarks in defense of the overhaul but had not had the opportunity to give them.
The Senate went through a longer debate before voting to pass Bill 26-5.
Under the new school funding plan, Tennessee would join nearly 40 other states that set a fixed amount per student. This has alarmed critics who argue the plan could potentially punish school districts because they may receive less funding over time. However, proponents counter that the current decades-old funding mechanism – made up of around 45 components – is too complicated and makes it difficult to track how the money is spent.
The bill states that schools will receive a base amount of $6,860 per student with options to increase this amount based on the location and needs of the student according to a matrix known as “school needs”. ‘unique learning’. For example, schools with dyslexic or disabled students would receive more funding — as well as students in small districts or where poverty is concentrated, calculated using an algorithm outlined in the legislation.
Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn said schools could receive up to $15,600 per student depending on how many “unique learning needs” a student meets.
So far, Lee is expected to approve giving an additional $750 million a year to fund the new education formula starting in 2023-24. The money would first be available for other one-time uses in education in the coming budget year. An additional $100 million has been allocated to encourage schools to reward schools with high reading achievement and students who have good college and career preparation. An additional $125 million will be added to increase teacher salaries, raising the minimum wage from around $35,000 to $46,000 by 2026.
Other bills still pending include a proposal to regulate delta-8 THC, which is a psychoactive chemical cousin of the main intoxicating ingredient in marijuana. The Senate and House are currently at odds over the details of the bill, with some pushing for an outright ban, as concerns have been raised about its explosive popularity in a state where recreational marijuana is not legal. Others say regulating the product will do a better job of reducing the risk of children being exposed to it.
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