This blog is part one of a two-part series looking at key themes elevated during state education funding subcommittee meetings. Part one looks at the first three of six meetings, which took place during November and December.

A need for additional investment in education, an emphasis on individual student needs, and calls for simplicity and transparency were some of the key themes to emerge in recent funding review subcommittee meetings convened by the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) following Governor Bill Lee’s call to review Tennessee’s public education funding formula. TDOE convened 18 subcommittees and a central steering committee to engage the public on the issue, tasking the subcommittees with discussing Tennessee funding needs, reviewing public comment, and developing recommendations for a new funding formula centered on the needs of students.

Meeting six times (from November 2021 to January 2022), each subcommittee is focused on a specific student group, community, or education topic of interest. The subcommittee chairs and members include legislators, educators, district leaders, students, higher education representatives, advocacy leaders, and other education stakeholders. SCORE has monitored these meetings to understand which priorities are top of mind for Tennesseans.

Meeting Structure And Agendas

The first two meetings involved brainstorming what is needed to support student success and categorizing those needs as “must have,” “should have,” “nice to have,” or “longshot.” Subcommittee members were encouraged to dream big — attempting to create an environment where logistics or feasibility would not impede brainstorming.

The third meeting presented four key funding formula components (the base, weights, direct funding, and outcomes), along with TDOE’s summary of what should be included under each component based on feedback to date. Subcommittee members were asked to respond to the feedback and give additional recommendations.

TDOE prepares the slide deck and agendas for each meeting, and each subcommittee has a TDOE facilitator to provide guidance and answer questions as needed. Meeting materials can be accessed on TDOE’s public education funding engagement landing page.

Key Themes

Several key themes and priorities emerged in the first three meetings.

  • Need for additional investments in education. There is consensus that more money is necessary, not just reallocating existing funding through a formula redesign.  
  • Need for a funding formula that benefits students with the greatest needs. The subcommittees are operating from the understanding that Tennessee is considering a shift to a student-weighted formula. The most common student weights brought up were economically disadvantaged students and concentrated poverty, English language learners, special education students (inclusive of gifted students), and rural students. 
  • Consideration of priorities for student success. Subcommittees spent a lot of time discussing their priorities for students, with common topics including mental health and wraparound supports, universal pre-K, options for students to prepare for college and career, staffing needs (particularly counselors, nurses, social workers, and psychologists), technology, and teacher pay. Most members felt these needs were all “must haves” or “should haves.”
  • Emphasis on simplicity and transparency in the formula redesign. Subcommittee members want a formula that is easily understood by school and district leaders to support their planning processes and that is also clear to the public to ensure transparency.
  • Concerns about local ability to pay. Subcommittee members questioned whether fiscal capacity, which measures a local community’s ability to fund education, would be addressed as an important component of the overall formula redesign and review process. TDOE indicated that local fiscal capacity was being discussed in separate regional meetings with local elected officials and district leaders. Eight regional meetings occurred the week of December 13, and TDOE shared a proposal to develop a plan for local contribution over the next 12 months and extend implementation across an additional four years.

SCORE will continue to monitor the subcommittee meetings and summarize the final three after their conclusion in late January. For more information about funding formula redesign, download SCORE’s Funding For Learning report and our funding recommendations memo

More on education funding in Tennessee: