Live from Music Row Wednesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Tennessee State Senator Jon Lundberg to the newsmaker line to explain the changes to the Basic Education Funding in the state and how it correlates with local education agencies (LEAs).
Leahy: We’re delighted to welcome to our newsmaker line state Senator Jon Lundberg from Bristol, Tennessee. Welcome, Senator Lundberg.
Lundberg: Good morning. Great to be here.
Leahy: Well, I did a little bit of research on you.
Lundberg: It’s going to start out rough.
Leahy: And suddenly I realized that you probably have a grading pad for us because you have been a managing editor for TV and radio stations in Colorado and Reno, Nevada, and Wichita and Bristol, Virginia-Tennessee. I did not know that about you.
Lundberg: That’s true. But that was a long time ago.
Leahy: But still, that’s a pretty impressive background in media and communications to have that experience.
Lundberg: It’s funny up here, so many people get so concerned about oh, the media wants to talk about this or that. It’s like, great! Talk to him. Why not?
Leahy: That’s part of our theme here at The Tennessee Star and The Tennessee Star Report because we are the only kind of conservative news outlet – the digital side of it, The Tennessee Star – in the state. What we want to do is talk to Republicans and conservatives who are unable to get their message out.
Lundberg: There you go.
Leahy: So we are aligned in that regard. But I appreciate your coming on here.
Leahy: You are a communications professional, so help me, help me, help me. (Lundberg chuckles) Please explain to me the governor’s education funding program.
Let me give you sort of my overview of it right now. Here’s how I look at it. The governor and the Commissioner of Education have gone on before the bill was introduced on this PR campaign and did several town halls.
And it seemed to me the theme was, let’s spend more on education, and let’s figure out the alchemy by which we provide state funds to the different counties in a certain way. What troubles me about this, and perhaps you can enlighten us on this, so, the governor has had a lot of time to put this bill together.
He didn’t introduce it until well into the session. And what it looks like to me now is it’s still kind of a bit of alchemy. I don’t think many legislators understand exactly what’s in the bill, and yet it seems to be hurtling towards passage. What do I have wrong on that?
Lundberg: Nothing wrong, per se, just a little different. And I agree the governor’s messaging was kind of off. I would say back up first. And we fund education right now with the BEP, the basic education plan, which, if you want to talk about confusing, I really don’t know how that works.
And I think and I’m not being sarcastic. There are probably 30, 40 people in the state that really understand how that is funded. And we don’t fund students. We fund programs. We fund programs to do this and to do that.
And what I think is just abhorrent is, we can’t say how much does it cost to educate little Jamie or Johnny in the school, we don’t know. We literally can’t put a number on it and say, this is what it costs.
So here’s my take on the whole thing. Let’s revise this and say every student has a base amount of what it costs to educate that student. And we put in that number that student’s got to have a bus to get to school, they’ve got to have a school. So there’s a little portion there.
A teacher, they have to have a school nurse for every 750 students. All these components go in and we put in a base and say, it’s going to cost us $6,860. But now for some students, it costs a little bit more if they’re in rural areas, because there are different challenges in rural areas, in sparse areas.
If they have learning disabilities, dyslexia, things like that, it literally costs more because it takes more time with those students.
So we put weights on that, and say it’s going to cost a little more here and there. For clarity, number one, I think that’s a really solid step forward.
Leahy: I’ve heard that, sort of, the money goes with the student. Is that in this bill?
Lundberg: It is.
Leahy: And how will it be implemented? What are the specifics of how that will be implemented?
Lundberg: In what way?
Leahy: Let’s say a parent has one child. Let’s say they live in Davidson County and they’re going to some public school in Davidson County. They don’t want to go to that school. They want to go to another public school, some other place in Davidson County, or they want to go to a private school.
Can they take that $6,800 or whatever the number ends up being, and say, I’m going to go to this school, I’m going to take this money to that school. Is that how this bill will work?
Lundberg: Well, if we had that ability, and I’ve got a separate bill that allows that because I think school choice is fundamental for parents. They should send their kids anywhere they want, but to allow them to go wherever there’s an opening in their LEA.
I think that’s fine. But the bill says, hey, when that student goes into those doors, that money follows that student. Absolutely.
Leahy: Just to be clear, this is where it gets a little confusing. Let’s say you’re in a LEA, a local education agency, I guess that’s what they call it, right?
Leahy: A county school district. Let’s say you’re in school-A right now, you’re zoned for school-A in Davidson County and you got $6,800 with that particular student.
And the parents say, I don’t want him to go to school-A. I want them to go to school-B in the same LEA. Does the governor’s bill allow them to do that?
Lundberg: This bill is only a funding bill, so no. So this bill does not. Others do, that say, hey, if school-B has openings, you got to let that student go there.
Leahy: This is what’s a little bit confusing to me because the governor has been promoting his education funding bill as a situation where the money follows the student.
Lundberg: Correct. And it might be better said the money is tied to the student so that you could forecast now how many students are going to come to your school. Do you have a Title I school?
You could basically forecast out your finances for school. If you’re a parent, you can pretty much figure out how much your student brings to whatever school and all that. If this has passed, all of that will also be posted online.
In addition to what’s that school spending, where are those dollars that the school and the school board have decided to allocate those funds?
Leahy: So it seems to me that the governor’s stated claims about this bill are not what it does in terms of having the money follow the student.
Lundberg: They do. They’re tied to the student. That’s a pretty significant policy shift from where we are.
Leahy: Explain to me how that’s different from where we are right now.
Lundberg: Again, I go back to what we started with, that we can’t tell how much it costs to educate Jamie and Johnny. We fund programs, so we don’t know. And some of those outcomes we can’t track as clearly.
This clarifies it and says for this student, this is how much is allocated based on whatever the criteria that we’re going through, including the base funding and what we call weights, which are those added percentages.
Leahy: How does that make education any better?
Lundberg: I think it clarifies it. So most districts will gain a great deal of funding. I think it also puts in a couple of things in this bill LEAs, those local education agencies and those school boards now have to put together a plan of where their deficiencies are and how they’re going to grow.
And I think that’s important. And they’re going to have a report card every year, and we’re going to grade schools just like they grade our kids. A, B, C, D, F.
Leahy: We already grade schools and we already grade LEAs, and the results are really bad for almost every LEA in the state.
Lundberg: They are disappointing. Yes. I think it’s unconscionable that we’re spending the kind of money we’re getting. You can argue with 33 or 34 percent of people are in the grade level at third grade.
Leahy: So let me see if I understand this. So then basically what this does is for every existing school district in an LEA, it just changes the amount, the way they are funded, and the amount of money they get is because of the number of kids they have. But it doesn’t provide more choice for the kids. Is that right?
Lundberg: Correct. Correct.
Leahy: You know, we just started this. State Senator, will you come in some time? I want to talk more with you about education.
Lundberg: I would love to. Love to. Absolutely.
Listen to the full interview:
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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Jon Lundberg” by Tennessee Education Heroes.