Governor Bill Lee Joins The Dan Mandis Show to Talk About Re-Working the Basic Education Program and Holding Schools Accountable


Live from Nashville, Tennessee, Friday morning on The Dan Mandis Show – weekdays on Supertalk 99.7 WTN – weekdays 5 a.m. to 9 a.m.– host Mandis welcomed Tennessee Governor Bill Lee to discuss how he will reformulate the Basic Education Program from the ground up and hold underperforming schools accountable.

Mandis: Governor Bill Lee joining us. And always appreciate having you on the radio program, sir. There’s been a lot of discussions going on Capitol Hill over the last few weeks about how we’re going to fund the schools. Now, Governor, you have said that you want the funding to follow the kids no matter where they go.

During your State of the State speech, you said this:

(Bill Lee clip plays)

I am proposing an innovative approach that sets aside dollars for each student based on their individual needs. And these dollars will be used in whatever public school they attend. This is not just hundreds of millions of dollars on the line. This is our kids and their lives.

So, Governor, a lot of folks said hallelujah. And for the last many weeks, we have been waiting, including folks in the state legislature, eagerly awaiting your proposal.

You’ve been having lots of high-level meetings about your proposal, and apparently, it sounds like it is finished or just about finished. What can you tell us about where you are in this process? I do know that this is has been a massive undertaking.

Lee: Yes. Hey, Dan, thank you for having me on. It is a massive undertaking, and it’s important that we do it. We have needed to do it for a long time – 30-year-old funding formula that was put in place under a Democrat governor, some 30 years ago.

Our school systems are so different than they were back then. We need to do this. And so we have worked for months with stakeholders and parents and teachers and folks around the state. We’ve had public input in a very methodical and detailed process for the last six months now to get this thing in place.

We’ll be dropping the details in the next few days, next week. It’ll be before the General Assembly then, and they can look at the details of it and make adjustments to it as necessary. But this is going to be a win for everybody.

Our public schools educate the vast number of our children in this state, and we need to invest appropriately in them. But that doesn’t just mean more money for our public schools.

We shouldn’t spend more money on our public schools until we get the funding formula correct. And that’s what we’re doing. By the way, I’ll throw in you mentioned money following students to whatever public school they go to.

This is a change in the way we fund schools. We’re not funding districts or bureaucracies or systems. We’re funding children based on their individual needs. And that funding that we allocated to that kid is what will determine the money that goes into the public school that they attend.

Mandis: Yes. And I’m going to get to that in a second because, one, I think that’s a great idea, but I want to talk about that in relation to charter schools. But right now, Governor, we spend roughly $6.9 billion total on K-12 funding.

That’s about $10,894 per student. Now, some folks and critics will say that’s roughly $4,000 less than the national average. My question is, will this new allocation process bring that number higher?

Now, from what I hear you saying, no, it won’t. We have to make sure that the money that we have is utilized appropriately.

Lee: Well, what we’re proposing is a new formula and a billion-dollar increase in the funding for our public schools. So it’s a significant increase in funding. It will elevate the dollars per pupil. But we should not do that until we have the right funding formula, because otherwise then we’re just pouring money into a bad system.

So, yes, the dollars that are invested in individual kids will be higher, but they’ll be unique to the child. You mentioned charter schools. Charter schools are public schools. People tend to get that confused with private schools.

Charter schools are public schools and they are publicly funded. They are secular public schools. They have a different arrangement for the way they are governed than a traditional public school.

But there’s no doubt about it, these are public schools. And the dollars that follow a child, if they go to a charter school, will go to that school as well.

Mandis: And I think for a lot of parents, they’re going to like what you just said. Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn had said that you wanted to build the new funding method from the ground up. Did you look at what other states are doing as a model as you were looking at changing what Tennessee does?

Lee: Yes. We did look at other states, and we looked at movement across the country that recognizes a very important thing, that parents should have a greater say and a greater understanding into what is happening with their children in schools.

All the way from curriculum to funding and everywhere in between. This formula actually provides transparency to parents so they know what the funding attached to their children is. They can know exactly how much money is being spent on their kids in public schools.

The other thing about this formula from the ground up is we’ve really had no accountability before when money was spent in public schools. Schools weren’t really held responsible for outcomes based on the money that we provided to them.

This formula brings accountability. The General Assembly will be a part of that accountability. So schools that receive money and then don’t have the outcomes that we want, they’ll be held accountable to that. That’s very important, and the parents will understand that accountability.

Mandis: Governor Bill Lee joining us. One of the biggest issues right now, what taxpayers and people like me have been screaming about for a long time, is what you were just speaking about, which is we keep dumping billions of dollars into these schools and they don’t improve.

There is a lacking of accountability in districts. I’m just going to call out one, Shelby County in Memphis. So when you talk about accountability from the school standpoint, do you feel like they’re going to be on board with your new proposal that is demanding accountability? Have you gotten any feedback from the schools that have needed some accountability for the last many years?

Lee: There’s a couple of things. We certainly are constructing this in a way that everybody wins. So the districts are going to, there’s not going to be any districts that receive less money under this plan, but they will be held accountable from this day forward for their performance.

And they know that. And they know that in order to receive these funds, they’re going to have to have metrics for accountability. But the only thing that’s going to happen is they’re going to be rewarded for outcomes as well.

So it’s not just a stick, it’s a carrot. It says to school districts, if you have outcomes that exceed the norm, then there will be funding that is attached to that. So it’s an accountability that runs both ways, and I think it’s something that people recognize is the way to go.

Listen to the full interview here:

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Photo “Gov. Bill Lee” by Tennessee Republican Party.












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One Thought to “Governor Bill Lee Joins The Dan Mandis Show to Talk About Re-Working the Basic Education Program and Holding Schools Accountable”

  1. 83ragtop50

    What a crock. A billion dollars more on a failed system without any real accountability?! Lee is out of touch but that is OK because it is “for the children”.

    He says: “But this is going to be a win for everybody”
    I totally disagree with that statement. It is a BIG loss for the state’s taxpayers.

    He also says: “We’re funding children based on their individual needs.”
    So where does this fit with the idea of equal opportunity to education? He is robbing Peter to pay Paul. Every child should be allotted the same amount for their public education. That is equal opportunity.

    Lee is a disaster. He hasn’t seen an opportunity to burn tax dollars that he does not support. Get him out of there ASAP.