State announces subcommittees to study DOE’s education funding

A series of subcommittees have been established by the Tennessee Department of Education as it looks to overhaul the state’s Basic Education Program formula.

The state announced this week there would be 18 subcommittees with representatives from district and school leaders, education partners, business leaders, stakeholders and members of the public.

“In the coming months, we will hear from Tennessee parents, teachers and community leaders as we pursue a student-focused approach to public education,” Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said in a press release. “More than 500 Tennesseans have already stepped up to share their ideas, and we look forward to a statewide discussion about strengthening K-12 education and preparing Tennessee students for success in the classroom and beyond.”

The Basic Education Program, commonly referred to as BEP, is the funding formula through which state education dollars are generated and distributed to Tennessee schools. The state Board of Education annually reviews and approves school system allocations generated through the BEP formula.

Lee announced last week that he wanted to take a look at the funding for the school systems and promptly designated the subcommittees.

Tennessee Education Association President Beth Brown said the TEA, which is the union for teachers across the state, said they support a review of the process. But said funding is the issue.

“The Tennessee Education Association supports Gov. Lee’s intent to engage educators, parents and community members in a critical evaluation of the state’s education funding formula,” she said. “However, the central problem with education funding is not the BEP, but the inadequate level of state funding.”

She pointed out that Tennessee ranks 46th in the nation for funding per student.

“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,” Brown said.

The funding mechanism has been in existence for almost 30 years.

Lee said he hopes to look at a new system that funds for student investment individually, instead of a funding mechanism that focuses on school systems, the way the current BEP is set up.

On Wednesday, Lee’s office announced that chairs for the subcommittees have already been picked.

Subcommittees

• Student Engagement Subcommittee

• Students with Disabilities and Gifted Students Subcommittee

• English Learner Subcommittee

• Economically Disadvantaged and Highly Mobile Students Subcommittee

• Parent Choice and Voice Subcommittee

• Teacher Advisory Subcommittee

• Principal Advisory Subcommittee

• School System Personnel Subcommittee

• School System Leadership Subcommittee

• Rural and Small District Subcommittee

• Suburban Districts, Municipals, and Fast-Growing Communities Subcommittee

• Urban District Subcommittee

• Higher Education and Post-Secondary Readiness Subcommittee

• Post-Secondary Readiness and the Business Community Subcommittee

• Chambers of Commerce and Industry Subcommittee

• Education Foundations Subcommittee

• Regional Collectives and Advocacy Subcommittee

• Fiscal Responsibility Subcommittee

“Our students are the future of Tennessee and now is the time to have a serious conversation about the ways in which we can strategically invest in them,” Penny Schwinn, state commissioner for the Department of Education, said. “I am thrilled by the number of Tennesseans who are interested in joining the conversation and explore the possibilities for a student-centered investment strategy.”

One person from the Lakeway Area who will be part of the subcommittee is Dr. Steve Starnes, director of the Greene County School System. Starnes will head the School System Personnel Subcommittee.

A press release said the subcommittees will meet twice a month, either in person or virtually, for the next three months.