See the OREA K-12 Dashboard

1. Between 2019 to 2020, there was an increase of more than 30,000 students with limited English proficiency in Tennessee. 

According to OREA’s brief published in March of 2021, in the 2018-2019 school year, six Tennessee school districts accounted for about 69% of all students classified as English Learners (EL), and only two school districts accounted for almost half of these students. While the majority of EL students are concentrated in a handful of districts, a significant population of EL students still attend school outside of these specific districts. Furthermore, according to the K-12 dashboard, the most consistently growing student demographic across Tennessee since 2013 is the Latino student population, indicating that the need for culturally and linguistically responsive teaching is increasing. (Note: The OREA K-12 Dashboard uses “Hispanic” to identify Latino students.) Currently, BEP funding for EL students is based on a ratio method of 20 students to one instructor and 200 students to one translator, but many small districts and schools do not meet the threshold for these ratios, leaving EL students without adequate instructional support.  A student-weighted formula would provide the flexibility to  districts with a small proportion of EL students to offer the support necessary to receive a high quality education. 

2. Student enrollment in Tennessee had the highest increase between the years 2019 and 2020, and declining in 2021.

Average daily membership (ADM) is a measure of student enrollment that represents how many students are enrolled in school and is commonly used for BEP per-pupil funding calculations. OREA’s K-12 Dashboard shows that ADM steadily increased in the years leading up to the pandemic, but the dashboard does not yet include data from the 2020-2021 school year when public school enrollment declined statewide, as published in a report from Ed Trust and the Tennessee Equity Alliance. The loss of over 23,000 public school students in the 2020-2021 school year would have equated to approximately $230 million in lost state funding. In light of the pandemic, districts were “held harmless” for the 2020-2021 year and did not lose state funds, but if enrollment continues to fall after ESSER money runs out in 2024, Tennessee and its districts may face a fiscal cliff that requires them to make budget cuts or use reserves if sustainability was not accounted for in ESSER plans.

3. Between 2015 and 2016, the number of students from low-income backgrounds in Tennessee decreased from 572,461 to 340,434– a 40.5% percent change in the number of students that were considered low-income, and students in this “at-risk” population have continued to be undercounted in the years since. 

Students from low-income backgrounds, labeled as “at-risk” for the purposes of BEP funding and school accountability, are those that are directly certified for specific state and federal assistance programs such as SNAP and TANF, as well as students that are identified as students experiencing homelessness, migration, displacement, or students in foster care. (Note: The OREA K-12 Dashboard uses “economically disadvantaged” to identify low-income students). Prior to 2015, Tennessee’s state definition of these “at-risk” students included students receiving both free and reduced lunch. However, since 2016, the state definition of low-income students changed to only consider students that are directly certified to receive free lunch, failing to account for a significant population of students that are still in need of additional financial support. A more precise measure would include direct certification as well as enrollment in Medicaid or TennCare, which would more fully capture students from low-income backgrounds. 

4. The percent change in average salary by year, for all four position types of education professionals, did not increase from 2014 to 2020. 

The four position types are: licensed educators, instructional personnel, classroom teachers, and principals, none of whom have seen a consistent percent change in average salary in the years since 2014. In fact, in 2019, all four subgroups had a 0% increase in percentage change in average salary. According to the BEP Review Committee 2021 Annual Report, Tennessee’s average teacher salary for 2020-2021 was projected to be 0.2% above the U.S. Southeastern regional average, ranking Tennessee educators’ average annual salaries higher than five neighboring states, but lagging behind six other states in the region. It is encouraging that in his recent State of the State address, Governor Lee committed to allocating an additional $124.7 million towards the teacher salary pool and that the draft funding formula indicates a long-term commitment to increasing salaries. With increasingly high turnover rates seen in schools across the country, it is important to make sure that frontline education professionals are being supported financially and in their workplace environment, now more than ever. 

5. The Basic Education Program (BEP) funding formula was the source of 93.9% of state funds for schools across the state last year, a slight decrease from previous years. 

While BEP funding has increased consistently since 2013, 2020 saw an increase in state funding for education coming from other state revenue sources. As Tennessee state legislators work towards revising the current funding formula, it will be important to consider the various sources of funding for special, county, and municipal (i.e. city) school districts across the state. Currently, Tennessee law ensures that local funds do not decrease even as state funding increases, but “maintenance of effort” provisions grant the Department of Education the authority to withhold state funding if local budgets are not in compliance. With BEP revisions on the horizon, the process for measuring and determining local contributions to school funding is important to revisit. The transient or enduring natures of these supplementary funding sources can provide insight into the most appropriate ways to develop a funding formula that takes into account the current state of school funding, as well as anticipated needs of individual students. However, it is critical to ensure that the vast majority of funding goes through the formula to promote transparency and its long-term success.

Equity considerations 

  • With a growing English Learner population, it is critical that schools across the state have the necessary staff, instructional materials and training to support this population. How can schools leverage the resources in their  local communities to support these students?
  • How can the definition of “economically disadvantaged” and “at-risk” students be expanded to appropriately include students that were counted for additional funding considerations before 2016?