A Knoxville News-Sentinel reporter last week shared the local school superintendent’s creative math to accuse Gov. Bill Lee of cutting education spending by nearly $6 million, when in fact the state’s BEP contribution had increased by that amount.
On April 1, reporter Tyler Whetstone tweeted, “New today – @GovBillLee‘s BEP proposal would cut @KnoxSchools funding by approximately $6 million. That’s a lot of 0s when you’re trying to scrap together a budget.”
— Tyler Whetstone (@tyler_whetstone) April 1, 2019
Whetstone’s story quoted Knox County Schools Superintendent Bob Thomas as lamenting a roughly $6 million cut in budgeted funds from the state’s Basic Education Plan going to the district. Thomas cried that the sky would fall in the form of the district not building three planned school buildings and changing a planned pay raise.
But guess what, Thomas’ math might as well have been an April Fool’s joke.
The state has typically added roughly $180 million new dollars into the BEP statewide in recent years. This, plus other smaller percentages of state funds, allowed the county to budget roughly $12 million extra BEP dollars each year. Last year it added an extra $14.1 million new BEP dollars after the state added $188.4 million new dollars to the fund.
However, that number is expected to be down to $117.5 million in new money this year, meaning the county’s share of new dollars is projected to be only $6.2 million, nearly $8 million less than last year, Knox County Finance Director Chris Caldwell said.
Why the confusion? Apparently, according to Knox County officials and Gannett reporters, budgeting should not be done based on the previous year’s numbers but instead from new money added year to year – count the surplus before you get it. If you receive a bonus one year, plan for it every year.
You could be pardoned for thinking Knox County Schools were putting this extra money to good use. You would be wrong, however.
The state’s 2018 Report Card shows the district having a success rate of less than 50 percent – 43.1 percent, to be exact. Math grade-level performance is at 35.6 percent, down 1 percent from the previous year. English Language Arts is at 37.6 percent, down 2.2 percent, while science is at 59.5 percent, down 1.1 percent.
According to a recent THEC report, 40 percent of Knox County graduates who enrolled in college needed remedial instruction.
All this could lead one to question if more money is the answer.
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Jason M. Reynolds has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist at outlets of all sizes.