JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee released a draft Tuesday for how his administration wants to overhaul the state’s complicated school funding formula, calling it a ‘student-based’ formula.
At this time, much is still unknown about how the funding will be restructured or the cost.
Friday marked a rare, joint meeting between the two boards of education from Johnson City and Washington County, Tennessee. They met with local legislators to talk about priorities for funding to benefit all Northeast Tennessee students, making sure children are not left behind as funding is restructured at the state level.
State Senator Rusty Crowe of Johnson City and State Representative Tim Hicks of Washington County attended the meeting. Representative Rebecca Alexander attended by phone.
“The shift in the dialogue is focusing on students. Funding being allocated based on the need of the student. Student-based funding. That language and that perspective is really important for all of us to pay attention to,” said Washington County Schools Superintendent Jerry Boyd.
Lee announced in October his intention to revamp the funding formula for K-12 public schools to prioritize student achievement. The formula has not been changed in 30 years.
Crowe and Hicks say now is the time.
“Performance looks a lot better than our funding. We’ve got to figure out how to better balance our funding so the counties that don’t have a lot of money can compete with the counties that do have more funding. The rural areas versus the urban areas,” said Crowe.
Tennessee ranks 44th in public education funding nationally.
The state says new the new formula for funding would provide additional money for rural communities like Northeast Tennessee. Hicks says there has never been more money available to fund education at a state level.
“Right now it’s really come about at the perfect time. We have a surplus of roughly 200 million dollars a month right now,” Hicks said.
At Friday’s joint meeting between the two boards of education, members from Johnson City and Washington County outlined their top priorities for students.
“Mental health services for our schools, for counseling, for Pre-K, for CTE were some of the highlights and I feel like that came across well with our representatives,” said Dr. Steve Barnett, superintendent of Johnson City Schools.
A major focus is workforce development in high schools. This looks like providing CTE, or career and technical education courses, and vocational programs.
“I really believe that we have a big percentage of kids that may need to go another path and we have to make that opportunity for them,” Hicks said.
Lawmakers and educators alike agree – these decisions on restructuring public school funding need to start at the local level.
“The two elected bodies in Washington County, they know best about what the needs are of the citizens of Washington County and listening to our educators about what they see the needs of our students are,” Boyd said.
Regarding the governor’s draft framework of new school funding formula, the public is encouraged to submit comments on this proposed funding framework by Tuesday, Jan. 18 at noon central time. Comments can be emailed to email@example.com.