HENDERSONVILLE, Tennessee – The Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) hosted a town hall meeting Wednesday night to discuss a student-centered public school funding strategy. Of the estimated 65 people in attendance, the majority of the attendees that spoke – 22 in all – were either current or former teachers, along with a few parents. Commissioner Penny Schwinn spoke at the event and said that she was happy to see so many people and students at the meeting.
“We want to make sure that everyone is heard. Whether you can come out here in person, whether you’re live streaming, whether you want to submit something on your phone,” Schwinn said. “This is really about a needs assessment. What do we want to be true for public education in this state?”
Before the meeting began, a representative from the TDOE told the audience, “Conversations on this topic are not intended to replace the current BEP funding formula. The current BEP funding formula will remain in place until a new funding formula is recommended to and approved by the Tennessee General Assembly.”
According to the TDOE website, the Basic Education Programming formula is the funding formula through which state education dollars are generated and distributed to Tennessee schools. The Board annually reviews and approves school system allocations generated through the BEP formula.
Also listed is a numeral breakdown of how money is divided into different parts of schools, including different levels of administration and how many children are required for each position.
The general overview for the BEP is that the funds generated by the BEP are what the state has defined as sufficient to provide a basic level of education for Tennessee students. This basic level of funding includes both a state share of the BEP and a local share.
“The public is encouraged to submit comments and writing to ensure that all communications are thoroughly documented and can be reviewed and considered in the future,” she added.
Attendees were encouraged to sign in through a QR code so they could register if they wanted to speak. In total, twenty-two attendees spoke about their concerns for public education.
Many speakers advocated for more funding within the schools. They said that there aren’t enough resources for students and that students can’t learn under those conditions.
One parent, Sonya Thomas, said, “We need to make sure that the new formula is producing outcomes for students, not paychecks and jobs. We need to make sure that our students are reading above grade level, that we set high expectations for them because they are genius.”
During the town hall, one parent said that while her family lived in Texas, they had the option for true school choice. For her family, the local school was not what she wanted for her kids. She was able to choose for her kids to go to a different school where they were able to properly learn.
Another speaker was a former student. David Wilson, who graduated from Maple Wood High School in 2013, said that there need to be more opportunities for students once they graduate. He focused on financial literacy and said that students who chose not to go to college need to be able to focus on different career paths.
Many expressed their thanks for the town hall during their comments and explained that this was the first time they were able to be heard. One parent even said that he wasn’t allowed to talk during a school board meeting unless the topic was on the agenda of the meeting.
Martha Weddlemand, a former teacher, was the last speaker. She proposed that $9 million be put towards public schools since charter schools were taking away from public funding. She advocated for technology funding (something that many parents spoke against), and that students and staff should be encouraged to be vaccinated for COVID to attend school. Her comments were met with applause.
To submit comments to the Tennessee Department of Education on this topic, send an email to [email protected]
The next town hall will be held for the south central region of Tennessee on Monday, N0vember 1, 2021. More town hall dates are listed here.
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