The Education Trust in Tennessee applauds Governor Lee and Commissioner Schwinn’s announcement today and their commitment to engaging in meaningful dialogue with Tennesseans to review the Basic Education Program and to explore ways to improve and modernize our education funding formula. We are encouraged that Governor Lee has emphasized the importance of listening, and to creating forum for meaningful feedback in order to establish a student-centered formula. Our state’s formula does not have simple fixes—the challenges we have are foundational to a system that emphasizes inputs to the educational environment rather than on the students themselves. Education funding should, above all else, be focused on the needs of students.

The Education Trust in Tennessee hosted a seven-month Dollars and Sense Learning Series this year, where hundreds of advocates learned from over two dozen experts in education finance. Together, we heard why a fair, adequate, and equitable school funding formula is the key to transforming our schools and equipping our students for success in life beyond the classroom. We also conducted focus groups and statewide polling over the summer, and Tennesseans overwhelmingly identified school funding as their single most important priority for improving education. Now, as Tennesseans gather to explore alternatives and solutions to the current funding formula, we urge Governor Lee and Commissioner Schwinn to consider the following recommendations:

  • Adopt a simplified, student-weighted funding formula that is guided by students’ different levels of need and by the goals of eliminating achievement and opportunity gaps.
  • Increase the level of funding allocated through the state formula, both overall and to student groups most in need, in order to support a rigorous, high-quality education program for all students.
  • Ensure fairness by providing funding to districts with low property wealth to make up the difference between what the district needs and what it is reasonably able to contribute based on property wealth and income.
  • Ensure that dollars are used well to improve student learning experiences and outcomes while providing enough flexibility to allow districts to respond to their local needs and context.
  • Be transparent about the system’s design and monitor funding going to districts. Transparency allows stakeholders to engage in conversations about how the state’s funding is meeting the needs of students.
  • Engage a diverse array of stakeholders in the coming months as you begin to reimagine how we drive funding and resources to schools in Tennessee. Every Tennessean has a stake in the outcomes of this process, and authentic and meaningful engagement will ensure a stronger solution in the end.

As an organization devoted to ensuring education justice for every child in Tennessee, we recognize the opportunity before us. The Education Trust in Tennessee, along with 65 partner organizations across the state, are proud members of the Tennessee Alliance for Equity in Education, and one of our key policy priorities is to address funding and resource equity. We stand ready to support Governor Lee and Commissioner Schwinn as they engage Tennesseans on this fundamentally important issue and look forward to coming together in service of our students and our schools.