To raise awareness of challenges in education and push for data-driven solutions, the Nashville Public Education Foundation has released an informational policy brief outlining the complexities, challenges, inadequacies and consequences of Tennessee’s Basic Education Program funding formula for schools.
Titled “Funding Our Schools: How Tennessee’s Funding Formula Fails to Meet the Needs of Nashville’s Students,” the brief encourages Tennessee to fully adopt the recommendations of its own BEP review committee and calls on the community to advocate for increased funding for the state’s schools.
“The state’s funding formula affects every neighborhood and public school student in the state, yet its complexity makes it difficult for families and neighbors to understand or talk about. We want to help shed light on why the formula fails to meet the needs of our students and amplify this critical conversation,” said Katie Cour, president and CEO of the Nashville Public Education Foundation, a nonprofit that raises private funds to support teachers and leaders and dismantle inequities in Metro Nashville Public Schools.
“Bottom line, the BEP consistently underestimates what it takes to run schools and places an unattainable burden on local districts to pick up the difference. Too often people feel relieved when they hear the state has ‘fully funded the BEP,’ but this statement is essentially meaningless. Tennessee is grossly underfunding schools that serve one million students each year — more than 82,000 just in Nashville.”
Tennessee ranks 43rd in the nation on per-pupil funding levels, according to the Education Law Center. The BEP formula dictates a per-student budget amount in Tennessee that is approximately $3,655 less than the nationwide average. In addition, while the nationwide split of local and state funding is often close to equal, Tennessee’s formula means that Metro Schools receives only approximately 26% of its revenue from the state, with the balance coming from local tax dollars in Davidson County.
In addition to insufficient funding, a primary challenge of the formula is its consistent underestimation of the budget requirements of running a school system, regardless of its size, the Nashville Public Education Foundation said in a news release.
The group’s policy brief breaks down key components of the formula, such as why approximately 7,000 more teachers are hired statewide each year than are accounted for in the BEP. These differences in what the state formula generates and what local districts actually need to spend must be made up by local funds.
Each year, a BEP review committee examines the formula and its results and makes recommendations to improve how it funds schools, but ultimately the Nashville Public Education Foundation advocates for a complete overhaul of the formula. It says it believes a better-funded and more strategic BEP will transform Tennessee’s public education system.
“Understanding the BEP and seeking its necessary reformulation is something that should be on every Nashvillian’s mind,” Cour said. “We have data that reflects proven paths to success. Investment in education is an investment in the future of our state, and it’s time our investment matches our priorities for students.”
The nonprofit regularly convenes stakeholders to advocate for data-driven solutions and change. In addition to education funding, its programs and coalitions address topics such as college access and success, the importance of effective principals and leaders, and teacher recruitment and retention.