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Published August 26, 2021
The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –
According to a report released on Wednesday by the Beacon Center of Tennessee, only 53% of the state’s education funding makes it to classrooms.
The amount of funding for education in Tennessee rises each year, but the report reveals that the amount of taxpayer money that is funneled to classrooms has not. Classroom money is where teachers and students are most directly impacted.
The report claims that each year the amount from taxpayers increases, but the funding reaching classrooms has remained the same. This number falls 7% below the national average.
Tennessee spends $11 billion on education each year, the report states, which equals around $11,300 per student. Since 2012, funding has increased around 30%, while student enrollment has risen 5% across the state.
While the funding is intended for students, Ron Shultis, Director of Policy and Research for the Beacon Center, says a vast majority of it is used to cover administrative costs. He believes this needs to change.
“What we’ve consistently seen is despite these calls for increased funding, the amount of funding ending up in the classroom is decreasing,” Shultis said. “We want to make sure these tax dollars are being used wisely.”
According to Shultis, one area of increase has been in the number of assistant principals added to Tennessee schools. The number of teachers across the state has decreased by about 3% since 2013, but the number of assistant principals has increased by 25%.
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A research associate at the Beacon Center and the author of the report, Jason Edmonds, released a statement to speak on the findings.
“While we keep hearing how education is underfunded, the real issue right now is that the money isn’t making it into the classroom,” the statement said. “We continue to spend more and more on administration and systems rather than funding students and teachers.”
The funding formula for Tennessee’s Basic Education Program is divided into four areas – benefits, classroom, instruction, and non-classroom. According to the Tennessee State Board of Education, most of the funding is based on student enrollment.
The formula includes very specific components, including number of students per teacher and number of dollars per student for textbooks.
Schools have long challenged the formula, including Metro Nashville and Shelby County Schools, both of which have been involved in lengthy court battles against the state regarding the formula.
Critics say central office employees and administrators often have inflated salaries while the average salary for classroom teachers has decreased when adjusted for inflation.
The Beacon Center is asking for the state to put an emphasis on more student-centered budgeting to increase transparency for families. This model, the Basic Education Program, would also better inform parents about choice programs.
“Our organization has always supported a parent’s right to choose the education for their child,” Shultis said. “We know the majority of parents are going to choose the public school system. So if the vast majority are going to use the public, government school system, then we are going to make sure we are getting the best bang for our buck so to speak.”
The Beacon Center has also shown support for Governor Bill Lee’s school voucher program.
Other groups, such as the Nashville Public Education Foundation, have said the BEP does not address the needs of students.
In March, Katie Cour, president, and CEO of the Nashville Public Education Foundation spoke out against the funding model.
“Bottom line, the BEP consistently underestimates what it takes to run schools and places an unattainable burden on local districts to pick up the difference,” Cour said.
The Beacon Center has asked the public to demand accountability in regards to transparency about their tax dollars, no matter what budgeting model is adopted.
“To reverse course and return funding to the classroom, actions must be taken at both the state and, more importantly, local levels,” Edmonds said. “Parents, educators, and stakeholders statewide should demand accountability from local school districts and push for school boards to address the reasons why they have consistently chosen to fund their systems over their students.”
About the Author:
Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative ~ Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career. Most recently, he served as Deputy Directory for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others. He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History. Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com