Rules Governing New School Funding Formula Pass Out of the Joint Government Operations Committee Meeting, Moves Toward Full Implementation

The rules governing Tennessee’s new K-12 education funding formula – Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA) – took another step towards full adoption on Monday, passing out of the Tennessee General Assembly’s Joint Government Operations Committee with a positive review. On the State House side, the proposed rules passed by a majority, with only 5 “nay” votes. While on the State Senate side, things were much closer, with a 4-2 in favor.

However, the 4-2 vote by State Senate members failed to meet the threshold for clear passage. Although the rules still passed out of the joint committee, they remain amendable by Government Operations Committee members going forth.

Last year, the Tennessee General Assembly passed legislation, at the impetus of Governor Lee, changing the way that Tennessee funds its public schools. After the legislation was passed, the job of crafting the rules governing the policy was charged to the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) and the State Board of Education (SBE). Those rules are then presented to legislators for final approval. The Joint Government Opportunity is the first step toward full implementation by this year’s state governing body.

On the State House side of the committee, the lawmakers opposing the new rules were:

  • Jesse Chism (D-Memphis)
  • John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville)
  • Yusef Hakeem (D-Chattanooga)
  • Justin Jones (D-Nashville)
  • G.A Hardaway (D-Memphis)

On the State Senate side, the “nay” votes came from Senator Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) and Senator Charlene Oliver (D-Nashville).

A vote was called after a short discussion period, with only Representative John Ray Clemmons posing questions. Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) Assistant Commissioner Charlie Bufalino attempted to answer Clemmons’s question, but at one point the exchange grew heated.

The Nashville Democrat questioned Bufalino over the lack of caps on direct funding allocations, specifically as they relate to charter schools. Bufalino explained that the lack of defined caps on direct allocations was designed to give flexibility to lawmakers during the appropriation process. The specific numbers would be in the Governor’s proposed budget, but the lack of a cap provided an opportunity for the General Assembly to weigh in on the level of funding.

Clemmons continued to voice concerns over how the direct funding allocations, and TISA itself, would impact the local contribution to school funding. Though most school districts pay around 30% of the cost of educating a child depending on their fiscal capacity. Clemmons fears that by having no caps on direct allocations, the local contribution could grow to a higher level, requiring increased property taxes.

“The state puts out a formula that determines the state contribution and the local contribution. Unfortunately, they don’t talk about the third column, the actual contribution”, Clemmons emphatically said to Bufalino, “Where the local governments are held responsible for filling in that gap.”

Bufalino explained that direct funding areas have no local funding requirements. Only the base and the weight require local allocation. He then addressed Clemmons concerns over how public charter schools could negatively impact local districts by stating, “Public charter schools are public schools and when there are public school students attending those types of schools, those dollars under the BEP flow to the public charter school. That is not changing under TISA.”

He went on to explain that in developing the proposed rules, the TDOE could only address what was in the legislation. In his opinion, many of the lawmaker’s concerns fell outside the purview of the Department’s responsibilities.

It is a view shared by Joint Government Operations Committee Chair Representative John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge), who tells The Tennessee Star in an email, “The rules as presented faithfully implemented the legislation that authorized them.  Despite the objections raised by some members, there is not a major problem with the rules.”

He goes on to say, “The objections were raised primarily because of disagreements to the enabling legislation passed last session.”

The rules, as presented, include a number of changes that came after an extensive engagement process last summer, in which the public was allowed to offer input. Some of the changes that came about include:

  • New language that places emphasis on special education students being taught in the least restrictive environment.
  • Funding Career Technical Education (CTE) programs using a ranking system of in-demand and high-wage earning career data.
  • Using English proficiency scores to determine eligibility for English learner bonuses. Those bonuses, along with those for students with disabilities, are now consistent across all grade levels.
  • Clarification on high schools being permitted to use the early warning system, already implemented statewide, to identify students with Dyslexia.

Deputy Commissioner Bufalino noted the rules are slated to go into effect on February 15th, and at that time the department would then be able to get local district projections for the 2023 – 2024 school year. He claimed that this would be the earliest funding projections have ever been provided to districts.

After hearing Bufalino’s remarks, one local school superintendent told The Star in an email, “That sounds like a change from what was shared at the last superintendent study council meeting.”

The school official added, “I hope the state provides specific projections. If LEAs are just provided the figures to plug into the TISA calculator, we will get the total amount of funding (i.e., state and local). It will not give us the state share which is really all that matters when it comes to developing our budgets for next year.” “LEA” stands for “local educational agencies,” commonly known as local school districts.

Neither Commissioner Penny Schwinn nor Deputy Commissioner Eve Carney was in attendance at the Monday committee meeting.

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TC Weber is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. He also writes the blog Dad Gone Wild. Follow TC on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected] He’s the proud parent of two public school children and the spouse of a public school teacher.


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