Tennessee Public School Funding Formula Passes House Committee

Image: TN Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn questioned in Committee. Image Credit: capitol.tn.gov

The Center Square [By Jon Styf] –

A new funding formula for Tennessee’s public schools continued to wind its way through legislative committees on Monday.

The House Government Operations Committee recommended House Bill 2143 to pass and sent it to the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee. Its companion bill, Senate Bill 2396, is scheduled for action in the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday after a presentation in the same committee last week.

Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville questioned Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn, as did Rep. Todd Warner, R-Chapel Hill, about whether the bill actually would send more money to charter or private schools.

Stewart asked about the $860 million in the bill for additional academic supports for children with extra learning needs and if that funding would be headed to charter schools.

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“The only way that is accurate is a hypothetical where every single school in the state is a public charter school,” Schwinn said. “I, in no way, think that is possible or happening.”

The new funding formula takes a base funding number for each student of $6,860 and then adds on additional weights for learning needs. That funding would go along with a student that elected to attend a charter school but Schwinn said there is no mechanism for that funding to go to a private school.

“The kids that are typically targeted for charters and vouchers are going to be carrying a whole lot more dollars with them to those charter or private schools because of the weights,” Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville said. “I think that the weights are not necessarily a bad thing. There are things about the weights that are good. But what we’re going to be doing is heavily weighting and sending vast amounts of these dollars to inferior charter schools in Tennessee.”


Johnson commented that the current charter schools in Tennessee have not performed well and she was concerned that similar student-based formulas in Texas and Florida have models where local governments fund more than 50% of the local public schools.

Schwinn said that 39 states have student-based funding formulas and there are a wide variety of plans. Tennessee’s new funding plan calls for the state to fund 75% of the shared costs with local governments combining to fund 25% of the model.

“A parent will be able to know exactly how many dollars a student is generating for that school and they can hold the school accountable for that as well as the General Assembly and Department of Education,” said bill sponsor Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis.

Discussion on the bill lasted nearly 35 minutes before previous question was called and debate ended, upsetting some Democratic lawmakers who remained on the list to speak.

“In my view, I think it’s important that we’re spending our money in our traditional public schools,” Johnson said.

Afterward, Johnson tweeted that “they promised plenty of debate on the floor -color me skeptical.”

About the Author: Jon Styf, The Center Square Staff Reporter – Jon Styf is an award-winning editor and reporter who has worked in Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin, Florida and Michigan in local newsrooms over the past 20 years, working for Shaw Media, Hearst and several other companies. Follow Jon on Twitter @JonStyf.

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