A Q&A with the Commissioner of Education on Tennessee’s New Education Funding Formula
Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn’s bus tour visited Ooltewah High School this week, one of 50 school district stops over three weeks to highlight learning opportunities in summer, as well as to boost the state’s new public school funding formula, the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement.
She followed the visit with an interview with the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
The new funding formula will inject a one-time investment of $250 million into education spending across the state starting this fall. After that, $750 million in recurring funds will be distributed in fiscal years 2023 and 2024.
The formula is weighted according to the student. It starts at a base amount of $6,860 per student and then includes additional funding for students’ unique individual needs, such as those on low incomes or with disabilities. The formula also allocates direct funds to support areas such as early literacy, vocational and technical education programs, one-on-one tutoring and charter schools.
Hamilton County schools are set to receive $397 million in fiscal year 2024, $47 million more than the $350 million the system will receive this school year, according to Department of Education projections. of State.
At the event, state officials, education officials and students touted the new formula’s focus on equity. Here’s what Schwinn had to say about formula weighting.
Q. How does the formula work?
A. The formula takes into account the needs of each student. And so if you’re a student who has additional needs, or maybe a student that extra support is going to help you, you get more money. So, let’s say you are a student who speaks a language other than English, this is something that will compel your school to do more for you. So, we give that student an extra boost of 40-60% more. If you are a low-income student and may need additional resources to meet these grade level expectations, we will make sure to give you more, and in this case it is a 25% increase . The formula is really constructed, instead of the average of all the students in a district, it actually says, “How much does each child need to make sure the district and the school can buy the resources and supports and teachers and all of those things that will help this child learn? »
Q. If a student changes schools, does the formula change?
A. The good news is that no matter which public school that student goes to, that amount generated by that child is what moves. Let’s say they moved from East Tennessee to West Tennessee for college and they have $12,500 that the formula generates for them. Their new district would have $12,500, as would their old district.
Q. On Monday, the Tennessee Department of Education released the proposed rules for the formula, however, they are a bit difficult for the layman to decipher. How can people better understand the rules?
A. The rules are essentially one: reaffirm the law. And then two: it’s another legal way to drill down a layer into more detail. So this will explain for the districts: this is how we will determine who qualifies as a student with a disability or a student who speaks a language other than English. Or here is the technical process for submitting data and how often you will hear you will get feedback or results in the department.
And then the ministry will produce a guide. And this guide puts it in simple terms: here’s what the formula will generate for you. Here are some strategic ways to invest those dollars. Here are the best practices.
Q. When will the guide be released?
A. We are looking at the very beginning of fall. So once we have the rules, we can produce the guide. The guide will be based on what those final submissions are.
Q. In Hamilton County, the school district has approximately $1 billion in deferred building repairs. How does the new formula help schools with infrastructure needs?
A. Districts will be able to have the flexibility to spend the money as they see fit for the children. And so, with a district like Hamilton County receiving over $40 million in new funding, I think that’s a really important and critical addition to any number of investments that they might want to make. Some of them will be academic. Some of them could expand their amazing high school and CTE (vocational and technical education) programs. And some of them will be things like deferred maintenance and capital expenditures. So the beauty is that this formula doesn’t really try to force or push people into certain types of spending. He says local districts should be empowered to spend the money however they see fit for their local communities.