Social Justice Committee Prepares To Tackle Education Funding Issues In Tennessee

By Cathie Bird

On Monday, June 2nd, Tennessee’s BEP Task Force will meet to talk about funding education in the state. Members of SOCM’s Social Justice Committee plan to be there. (See meeting information at the end of this post!)

The Basic Education Program (BEP) is the finance formula for Tennessee’s public schools. Under the Education Improvement Act of 1992, the state board of education is required to develop and adopt policies, formulas and guidelines for the fair and equitable distribution of public funds for Tennessee’s public school systems. The BEP was created as the statutory mechanism through which the board carries this out. [See Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-1-302]

But many citizens, groups like SOCM, teachers, and even school districts in Tennessee are questioning how well the state is fulfilling its constitutional requirements to provide fair and equitable education for all of its students.

According to a 2013 report from the Kirwan Institute, poverty, attacks on public education, gridlock in our federal government, pressure to shift public funding to privately owned charters, and entrenched racial disparities guarantee that the “Next Big Neglect” will be in education.

This education crisis — considered to have reached a dangerous peak in the United States — is reflected in Tennessee as well. The 2014 National Report Card on school funding fairness, for example, gave Tennessee unsatisfactory marks on three of the four fairness indicators assessed.

Fairness and equity are, of course, major areas of concern to SOCM members working on any social justice issue in their communities.

“Current school funding is primarily based on property taxes, which means that affluent communities have a significant advantage over communities with a lesser property tax base,” says Social Justice Committee member Sara Fitzgerald (Tullahoma). “All Tennessee children deserve a well-funded education.  If the state education funding to school districts were based on trying to make per-pupil expenditures as equal as is reasonable among the districts, there would be a greater parity for students.”

Committee members will have a few “asks” in mind as they engage more deeply with the state’s education systems:

  • We want to talk about FULLY FUNDING education in Tennessee.
  • We want to make sure that a student’s zip code doesn’t determine access to a good education. Kids in poor mountain communities in Campbell/Claiborne counties, and in predominantly African-American and immigrant neighborhoods in Nashville, should have access to the same resources that students in affluent, mostly-white communities like Brentwood or Franklin do.
  • We want parents, teachers, and students to be fully involved in the decision-making process on funding and other policies that impact their community’s schools.

As Social Justice Committee work with education issues in Tennessee unfold, the official SOCM blog will cover it! For more information on this or other social justice issues, contact brad@socm.org

BEP Task Force Meeting Information

Notice for the upcoming meeting of the BEP Task Force was not timely or adequately distributed, which makes it hard for people to become involved. So, here’s the time, place and agenda:

Monday, June 2, 2014 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., Executive Conference Room at the State Capitol.

The agenda for this meeting will be as follows:

I.                    Welcome (Kevin Huffman, Commissioner, Department of Education)

II.                  BEP Component Review (Stephen Smith, Assistant Commissioner, Department of Education; Maryanne Durski, Executive Director of Local Finance, Department of Education)

III.                BEP Review Committee Recommendations and Analysis (Gary Nixon, Executive Director, State Board Education)

IV.                Discussion/Future Agenda Items/Dates for Upcoming Meetings

The meeting will be open to interested members of the public.

For further information contact Elizabeth Fiveash, Legislative Liaison,elizabeth.fiveash@tn.gov Office (615) 253-1960 Cell (615) 651-9932

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