Tennessee Lawmaker Concerned New School Funding Formula Could Lead to ‘Administrative Bloat’

by Jon Styf


As Tennessee officials get closer to presenting a new state funding proposal for K-12 public education, at least one state senator is concerned about the costs of record-keeping in the new plan.

“The way the bill is going to read, the state is going to give a capitated rate per student to the district and then, for rural schools or economically disadvantaged schools or schools with high amounts of English as a second language, they give bonuses basically,” said Sen. John Stevens, R-Huntingdon, a member of the Rural and Small District Subcommittee – one of 18 subcommittees under a steering committee involved in reviewing the state’s school funding formula. “Extra money for these extra things that you do.

“Now you’ve just increased your administrative costs too because you’re going to have to prove how many students you have or how many English language learners. So the [Department of Education] is going to need staff to review your application, the local (district) is going to have to hire people to make the application. Here we go again. No teachers are going to get pay raises, and we’re going to have a bunch of administrative bloat within all these districts. So inefficient.”

Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn provided an update on the department’s process of creating a new funding formula Dec. 21 to Gov. Bill Lee, who called for a review the state’s K-12 education funding model in October.

The department held eight public town halls and eight meetings with local leaders on local matching of state funds related to the new formula, which would replace the current Basic Education Program (BEP), which was created in 1992.

If and when the funding formula change occurs, Tennessee would become one of 39 states with a student-based funding formula. Instead of receiving funds based on the district’s characteristics, the schools would receive a set amount of funding for each student and bonuses based on the student’s learning characteristics.

Stevens, like others, is concerned that local governments pay their portion along with the state, which budgeted to spend $5.6 billion in state funding on K-12 public education this fiscal year.

In the local match meetings, the state presented feedback it had received during the process, saying local school leaders most often are looking to hire nurses, counselors and school psychologists, and smaller districts are looking to fund a full principal position at each school with an increase in teacher salaries and benefits.

“What a lot of these superintendents are talking about are … we need the state to pay for more of the cost of public education because local and county commissions don’t give them any money,” Stevens said. “They don’t want to pay for things that the school system wants to do.”

Stevens suggested the state should give less state sales tax money to local governments that do not properly support education with a funding match.

In its presentation at the local match meetings, the Department of Education proposed “local districts may see more state funding in a new formula, but local communities would not have to contribute anything additional for at least five years.” After a one-year discussion period on local match, based on the new funding formula, that then “gives a 4-year runway before local implementation.”

At an average of $11,328 per student in 2020-21, Tennessee currently ranks 45th in public school funding, according to the National Education Association.

“I’m not just going to give the locals a windfall by absorbing the costs that they’re supposed to pay for without them having some skin in the game,” Stevens said. “Because all the schools want to do is hire more people.”

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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. He is a staff report for The Center Square.
Photo “Sen. John Stevens” by Senator John Stevens.




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14 Thoughts to “Tennessee Lawmaker Concerned New School Funding Formula Could Lead to ‘Administrative Bloat’”

  1. Randy

    More money less, education, more administration…… Public education at a glance. Hold onto your wallet folks. Our academic institutions at every level have no interest in anything but their own bloat. There is no incentive to be efficient or effective. More money and more administration assures them of more money and more administration. Cut all their funding by at least 25% and insist they produce better results. Stop Legislating incentives for waste fraud and abuse.

  2. Cannoneer2

    Senator, if you are interested in getting rid of “administrative bloat”, look no further than the legislature’s own organization.

  3. 83ragtop50

    Does anyone really doubt that Schwinn and Lee will blow up an already excessive education budget? Does anyone else recall when a principal also taught classes? How many “front desk” workers does a school really need? Who pays for the “free” meals and supplies? But the real bloat is in two areas.

    1. Accommodating illegals and refugees who are granted admission to the schools and then are given discriminatory privileges.

    2. Administrative staffing levels of that are out of portion to the job required and certainly to the amount of work done. All the while pulling down outlandish salaries and benefits.

    We taxpayers are going to get gouged by the teachers, unions and bureaucrats who always want more and more and more. Well, I want more education at a fair cost. But we are not going to get that. And it all starts with Lee.

    1. Glenn

      Rag, teacher’s union has long since be neutered in Tennessee. Please try and keep up.

      1. 83ragtop50

        Glenn. I disagree with your definition of neutered, but it is OK to disagree. But the problem remains and is getting worse.

  4. Wolf Woman

    Can someone explain why Bill Lee, a Republican, chose Penny Schwinn, a progressive, to be head of the TN Dept of Education?

  5. Brendan D Jennings

    All I can say is … Welcome to the party, pal!

  6. Kevin

    I hate to admit it, but the BLOAT is already here! Take a look at the historic rate of growth of a County’s overall school budget versus the growth in teacher pay, and you immediately see that there is bloat! When overall school budgets grow by 5, 6, or 7% annually and teachers get 1, 2 or 3% pay increases, something is wrong!

    1. John

      Kevin…buddy….administration staff do not include teachers. Teachers with tested classes get raises based on test scores. Now teachers with non-tested class getting raises..aka the art teacher…we can talk about that bs all day long. But don’t throw out some talking point you heard on one of these local talk radio shows. 99.7 has nothing but a bunch of misinformed blithering idiots at the mic. One, so staunch in his political bias that it killed him.

      In conclusion, don’t be a Dilbert

      1. Ian

        John, at what point did Kevin state that administrative staff includes teachers. He was actually making a point of the opposite. Also, can you name any specific counties that reward teachers with higher test scores (by the way, students take the tests- not the teachers, so I’m not sure why they are called the teachers’ scores, but I digress.) with a raise in salary? Teachers in my county do not receive any additional compensation for “higher test scores”.

  7. John

    ‘Could lead to administrative bloat’???

    Get your head out of the sand man. School administrations are already bloated. Especially in Davidson, Wilson, and Rutherford.

  8. David

    Why would TN give more money to encourage illegal immigrants? It says that school districts will get more money if they have > “high amounts of English as a second language”.
    TN should STOP requiring translators for students and their parents (yes, the TN DOE requires they provide a translator for parents too if they come to the school – check it out).

  9. Dr Ken

    The concern is well founded and has been seen in other professions as well. With government over- reach agencies grow, their administrative overhead expands, they become more regulated, more restrictive and more self-promoting. At the same time their efficacy diminishes, lost in the discussion is those they serve..

  10. David Blackwell RN, BSN, CCM

    Administrative bloat is what we do best. That’s bureaucracy 101.