Dollars and Sense

Dollars and Sense is a 7-part learning series designed to help Tennesseans understand how schools are funded in Tennessee, and what we can do to improve the adequacy and equity in our funding formula so that our schools and students have access to the resources that they need to succeed. We will feature expert speakers from Tennessee and across the country, and assign optional readings for each session.

March, 1, 2021 | School Funding 101

Session 1 will provide attendees with an introduction to school funding structures, including what goes in, what comes out, and why it matters. Additionally, attendees will learn how state education funding formulas compare across the country, and several ways to evaluate their adequacy and fairness. This session will lay a foundation for future Dollars and Sense sessions, ensuring attendees can examine the many dimensions of school funding in Tennessee.


  1. How State and Local Dollars Fund Public Schools (Allovue)
  2. Federal Education Funding: Where Does the Money Go? (US News and World Report, by Lauren Camera)
  3. Common Sense and Fairness (EdBuild) – Only the following sections:
    • The Principles that Guide Strong Funding Formulas (p. 2, middle)
    • Introduction to Formula Types (p. 4, top)
    • Local Share and Property Tax Rates (pp. 20-21—just the top of the second page)
  4. 5 Things to Advance Equity in State Funding Systems (Ed Trust)
  5. Making the Grade 2020 (Education Law Center)


March 29 2021 | The Politics at Play

Session 2 of Dollars and Sense will provide attendees with an understanding of the national and state actors, constituencies and policies at play in education finance. We’ll discuss the role of different sectors, governmental agencies and litigation in the school funding landscape in Tennessee.

April 26, 2021 | Cracking the Code: Tennessee's BEP Funding Formula

Session 3 will provide attendees with a close examination of the Basic Education Program (BEP), including its history, structure, how it works in practice and its impact on key drivers like salaries and staffing, instructional programs and learning supports for students. We’ll discuss how the BEP funds and impacts rural and urban districts, and the challenges local counties face in funding the remainder of district needs.

May 24, 2021 | What are the Stakes?

Session 4 will provide attendees with an understanding of the latest research on the impact of school funding on achievement, student outcomes and economic mobility. We’ll also take a look at the impact of COVID-19 and the recession on state and local budgets, and the potential for long-term effects.

June 28, 2021 | Data and Solutions - Let's Think Big

Session 5 will provide attendees with an analysis of possible solutions and alternatives to the BEP, which is a resource-based funding model. What alternatives exist? What is working in other states and what can we learn from them? We’ll hear from experts on how we can cost out solutions, and discuss what it would take to fund our schools in an equitable and adequate manner.

July 26, 2021 | Funding Reform Advocacy - What Works?

Session 6 will provide attendees an opportunity to hear from advocates and leaders in other states about their ability to change their funding formula. We’ll discuss what worked, what failed, and how public will was changed in order to achieve change. We’ll also examine the impact of litigation and court-ordered funding reform on state funding formulas.

August 23, 2021 | Leading from Your Seat: Advocacy Skill Building

Our final session will provide attendees with tangible skills to advocate and communicate on school finance and the funding reform necessary to create durable change in Tennessee. We’ll offer strategies in communications and messaging, storytelling, utilizing social media and data to make a compelling case for change. We’ll also offer strategies for meeting with policymakers and leaders who have the power to change our funding formula in our state.