The most significant education initiative passed by the Tennessee General Assembly during the 2022 legislative session was the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA), a student-weighted funding formula to replace the state’s 30-year-old resource-based funding formula.  

Why was this change necessary, and why was it one of SCORE’s top priorities for the legislative session? Funding education based on an outdated list of resources was not responsive to current students’ needs. Following a decade of improvement, the state’s progress in student achievement had slowed and the education system consistently underperformed for high-need students. In order to continue growing, Tennessee had to reimagine and invest in K-12 education funding.

SCORE elevated the importance of education funding through two reports: Funding For Learning, an overview of education funding in Tennessee with principles for an effective funding system, and Modernizing Education Funding To Support Every Tennessee Student, a memo with recommendations for a redesigned funding formula — one driven by student need, and with an increased investment alongside transparent reporting.  

After a public input process, weeks of testimony, various amendments, and committee discussion, the legislation to establish TISA passed both the House and Senate on April 28, 2022, and was signed by Governor Lee on May 2, 2022. Through TISA, Tennessee is investing $1 billion in new, recurring dollars and shifting to a funding formula designed to meet the individual learning needs of every student. The final language of TISA, Public Chapter 966, includes:

  • A base funding amount for all students, projected to be $6,680 per student.
  • A prioritized set of student weights to add funding to the base amount for students with specific learning needs. Weights apply for students who are economically disadvantaged, attend school in areas of concentrated poverty, attend school in a rural district, and/or have unique learning needs (such as students with disabilities and English learners).
  • Direct funding provided entirely by the state for students in grades K-3 to support early literacy instruction, rising fourth graders who need additional support to read on grade level, students who attend charter schools to account for facility needs, students in career and technical education programs, and students taking and retaking the ACT.
  • Outcomes incentive funding provided entirely by the state to reward districts with bonus funds for achieving certain student outcome measures.
  • Several reports and analyses to help the public and policymakers transparently understand how funding can be used to further student achievement goals and evaluate how well TISA is working.
  • Ongoing review of the formula through a TISA review committee established by the State Board of Education.

We believe TISA offers a structure to target increased investment and strategic supports to students with the greatest needs, one of SCORE’s education funding priorities. The weights and direct funding generate funds based on individual students, allowing the formula to be driven by student need. Additionally, the new $1 billion investment to the overall state education budget reflects a commitment to student learning. And the additional reporting and analysis paired with an annual review committee for ongoing improvement addresses the importance of transparency and accountability. The passage of TISA was a notable step forward in modernizing education funding to support students and ensure that all Tennessee graduates are prepared for college and career.

The success of TISA, however, ultimately relies on implementation. The new funding formula begins generating funds for districts in the 2023-2024 school year. Before then, several key things will happen, including: a rulemaking process with opportunities for public feedback led by the Tennessee Department of Education, the development of a TISA guide, and extensive planning activities by state, district, and local leaders to prepare for the shift. Moving forward, a commitment to a thorough, collaborative, and transparent implementation process is essential to ensure TISA reaches its full potential to create real change for the students who need it the most.

Madeline Price is SCORE’s senior policy analyst.

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