Legislators discuss education funding, charter schools at Policy Talks | Local News

Fatima Fokina

Williamson, Inc. hosted its second Policy Talks of 2022 at the Columbia State Community College Williamson Campus Friday morning.

The panel featured members of Tennessee’s state legislature.

State Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson and state Reps. Glen Casada, Sam Whitson and Todd Warner discussed Gov. Bill Lee’s recently unveiled “student-based funding formula” plan aimed to overhaul public school funding in Tennessee and the controversy surrounding charter schools.

The plan would allocate a base amount of funding of $6,860 per student, however, if a student was, for instance, economically disadvantaged and had special learning needs, extra funding would be utilized towards the education of the student.

Proponents of the plan claim that districts would receive more funding under the new formula than they would under the BEP formula assuming stable enrollment rate. Furthermore, schools with 2% growth each year for three consecutive years would receive an infrastructure stipend form the state, and schools with current year growth above 2% from the prior year would receive same-year funding from the state for the additional students.

“There is some money in [the plan] for schools and systems like Williamson County both because of growth, because of our high performance and because of our children who have special educational needs,” Casada said. “So, this new formula that the governor has come out with is going to be very good for Williamson County.”

The plan also requires increases to education funding in the state from state and local governments and, according to Whitson, is also meant to trigger an increase in teacher salaries. There’s $125 million set aside in the plan for public school teacher salary increases in fiscal year 2023.

“Under the old system, … the pay increases were allocated based on the number of teachers authorized by the BEP,” Whitson said. “That is gone. It will be the number of teachers employed teaching in a school district.”

Johnson elaborated on the differences between the student-based formula and BEP formula.

“Currently, under the existing [BEP] formula, we fund processes, we fund bureaucracies, we don’t fund kids,” he said. “Governor Lee is saying we need a student-centered funding system, and as proposed, you would be able to pluck a kid out of Pickett County, pluck a kid out of Davidson County … and know exactly how much money is allocated to that child based on their individual circumstances.”

Charter Schools

Charter schools would be considered public schools under the new plan.

According to Merriam-Webster, a charter school is “a tax-supported school established by a charter between a granting body (such as a school board) and an outside group (as of teachers and parents) which operates the school without most local and state educational regulations so as to achieve set goals.”

Charter school students would get a 4% increase to their base funding due to the plan.

“Peoples’ heads sometimes start to explode when you mention charters,” Johnson said. “We don’t have for-profit charters in Tennessee. They’re not allowed by law. We do have charters that are operating in the state of Tennessee, but they are nonprofits. These are nonprofits that are typically funded by people who care passionately about education, and they identify and they recognize areas like Shelby County, like Davidson County, where the school system is failing those kids. And they go in with private dollars that they’ve raised, and they go in and they put a charter school that can operate differently than your traditional public school and cater to the needs of those kids.”

Some in the community are worried about the emphasis placed on charter schools in the plan, especially relating to the governor’s partnership with Hillsdale College, a private Christian College in Michigan.

When first asked about Hillsdale College, Johnson refused to speak. Johnson later claimed that “the governor proposed a partnership with Hillsdale for civics in higher education. Higher education at the college level. And it has support from our higher education. It’s not mandatory.”

Earlier this month at a press conference on Feb. 4, Lee said, “We welcome charter operators, nonprofit charter operators from around the country to improve the public school system in our state, and that includes classical education charter schools like Hillsdale.”

https://www.williamsonherald.com/news/local_news/legislators-discuss-education-funding-charter-schools-at-policy-talks/article_659c0736-96af-11ec-a0ba-ab819b1bb820.html

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