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(The Center Square) – The Tennessee Department of Education has released a draft of a new student-based K-12 public education funding formula and gave the public a week to respond before moving forward.

A new formula would replace the Basic Education Program (BEP) funding formula that was created in 1992.

The new formula, which the department unveiled Tuesday, would provide a set amount of funding per student to schools with additional factors that could add to that funding.

Items or staff not currently funded by the BEP but are funded through a separate appropriation would be combined into one funding mechanism in the new plan.

Gov. Bill Lee announced in October the state would begin planning for a BEP replacement during a review that included public meetings and committee and subcommittee meetings. The public can respond to the draft framework by emailing before noon CST on Jan. 18.

“I want to personally thank the Tennessee parents, teachers, students and citizens who have engaged in this important discussion about our state’s education funding, and to encourage all Tennesseans who want to get involved to send their public comments on this latest draft,” Lee said. “As we plan for the future of Tennessee, this process will continue to ensure we’re listening to the people of the state and improving how we invest resources to set our students up for success.” 

The draft formula factors in what it calls “weights,” giving additional funding to students who are living in poverty or in concentrated poverty areas, those living in rural school districts, students with unique learning needs and students at public charter schools.

Additional funding would go to students in districts that are fast growing, need large-scale tutoring assistance and have Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs.

"People know what they want for public school funding, and we are thrilled so many Tennesseans have participated in this process and see what this will mean for students," Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn said. “We know this cannot just be about a funding formula in isolation, but about what funding can do to accelerate achievement for our students, ensure they have access to a high-quality education, and set them up for success after high school."  

The formula also includes per-student performance bonuses for passing Advanced Placement tests, ACT and SAT scores, dual credit work, industry certifications and more. Additional funding would go to students who are economically disadvantaged and complete one of the performance bonuses.

The formula also includes new reporting and transparency requirements for districts, including a fiscal accountability report.

After collecting feedback from the public over the next week, a final recommendations review will happen the week of Jan. 24 before the proposal heads to the Legislature for approval.

The state budgeted $5.6 billion for K-12 education in fiscal year 2022. Tennessee ranked 45th in the nation in per-pupil spending at $11,328 in 2020-21, a National Education Association report said.

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