Tennessee’s State Board of Education has unanimously approved new rules governing how the state funds K-12 education under the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement Act (TISA).
During a specially called meeting on Thursday, the board approved new rules that will fund charter schools in the same funding structure as public schools and requires that teacher salary raises allocated by state lawmakers actually go to teachers.
Under TISA, the state will provide both public and charter schools a set amount of base funding for each student determined by the state legislature each year, with additional dollars for English language learners, special education students and students with dyslexia.
More funding will go to districts the department determines to be economically disadvantaged, districts of concentrated poverty and districts that are small or sparse.
New rules also provide a monetary outcome bonus based on student achievement for both public and charter schools based on student literacy in third and fourth grades, middle school ELA and math test results, high school ACT scores and students who earn high school industry credentials.
If given final approval, the new TISA funding structure would go into effect for the 2023-24 school year.
During the eight-week public comment period, 183 Tennesseans submitted comments on the new rules.
Many commenters were concerned over how the rules define students to be economically disadvantaged. Under the rules, 25% more funding is added to a student’s base allocation if they are economically disadvantaged. That designation is based on whether a student is certified to receive a free or reduced lunch based on federal guidelines.
Commenters suggested the rule be changed to also include students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch but do not actually use the program. That way, the state would avoid undercounting economically disadvantaged students and depriving needy districts of funding.
Commenters also criticized the rule on Outcome Bonuses, arguing that rewarding districts based on high achievement will widen the gap between higher-achieving districts and lower-achieving ones. Instead, commenters said districts should be rewarded based on a set growth measurement, not overall high test scores.
The Tennessee Education Association asked for more transparency, suggesting the board require the Department of Education to publicly post data gathered from school districts on how TISA funds are spent.
“Parents of children being served in Tennessee’s public schools should have access to detailed information concerning such matters,” reads a memo on the rules submitted by the TEA.
Currently, the Comptroller publishes a calculator that simplifies state and local funding for each school district for public review. While districts are required to submit data to the department, a similar repository to make data public is not included in the TISA rules.
After the board’s approval, Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn thanked Tennesseans who provided feedback.
“As we prepare for the implementation of the TISA formula in the 2023-24 school year, feedback received is essential to ensuring this new public school funding formula serves the needs of all Tennessee students,” Schwinn said in a statement.
State lawmakers passed the TISA legislation, proposed by Gov. Bill Lee in April, just eight weeks after his administration released details of how the new funding structure would function. The new plan will replace the state’s existing K-12 education funding structure known as the Basic Education Plan, which has been in place for more than 30 years.
Proponents tout the new structure as a way to allow state funding to follow individual students, empower them to read proficiently by third grade and prepare each high school graduate for postsecondary success.
“From my perspective, the process has been an outstanding example of how the General Assembly, the Department and the State Board have come together, acting on extensive input from the residents of Tennessee to provide our districts with a funding process that will ensure the needs of individual students are addressed,” said State Board of Education Vice Chair Bob Eby after the vote.
TISA rules will now advance to a review by the state Attorney General and, if approved, filing with the Tennessee Secretary of State. Once filed, the rules will be subject to a 90-day review period and will be subjected to a final review by state lawmakers in the Joint Government Operations Committee.