FRANKLIN, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed into law Monday an overhaul he proposed for the formula for funding the state's multibillion-dollar K-12 education system.
The Republican signed the law at Franklin High School, where he attended school. Lawmakers in the Republican-supermajority General Assembly passed the bill last week. There were some crossover votes, with Democrats supporting it and Republicans opposing it.
“What's unique about this piece of legislation and this funding formula is that it considers students above all," Lee said.
Under the new school funding plan, Tennessee would join nearly 40 other states that attach a set amount of money per student. This has alarmed critics who argue the plan could potentially punish school districts because they might receive less funds over time. However, supporters counter the current decades-old funding mechanism — made up of about 45 components — is overly complicated and makes it difficult to track how the money is spent.
The bill states that schools will receive a base dollar amount of $6,860 per student with options to increase that amount depending on the student’s location and needs under a matrix known as “unique learning needs.” For example, schools with students with dyslexia or a disability would receive more funding — as well as those students in small districts or where poverty is concentrated, calculated using an algorithm outlined in the legislation.
Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn has said schools could receive as much as $15,600 per student depending on how many “unique learning needs” a student meets.
So far, Lee is expected to sign off on giving $750 million more annually to fund the new education formula starting in the 2023-2024 school year. The money would first be available for other one-time education uses in the upcoming budget year. Another $100 million has been allocated to give schools incentives to reward high reading schools and students who have strong college and career readiness. An additional $125 million will be added to boost teacher salaries, moving the minimum salary from around $35,000 to $46,000 by 2026.