Tennessee is known for taking bold action when it comes to improving student achievement. More than a decade ago, the state built a solid foundation of policies centered on serving the needs of students by setting high academic expectations, measuring progress with statewide assessment, and holding adults accountable for the results. Those policies plus the hard work of educators, students, families, and communities helped Tennessee post some of the fastest improvement on The Nation’s Report Card.
The Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA) signed into law Monday is the state’s newest bold education policy. As Senator Frist said last week, “We believe TISA will be a game-changer for students in Tennessee public schools.” When implemented as intended, the new K-12 funding formula will provide the investment to help educators support significant improvement in student achievement. Like Tennessee’s earlier reforms, TISA is grounded in evidence – specifically research that indicates targeting additional funding to students who have the greatest learning needs can help them achieve at higher levels. Through a system of student weights, TISA will target increased funding to students who are not yet meeting grade-level expectations.
The opportunity to better help each Tennessee student meet our high academic expectations is what matters about the creation and passage of TISA. Right now, statewide assessment shows only half of students are at grade level. What matters going forward is ensuring that we realize the potential of this modern, student-focused education funding formula to better serve all children and prepare them for success in college, career, and life.
SCORE has advocated for funding reform and most recently supported TISA for many reasons, but one that our team feels especially passionate about is making the systemic changes that can support the students with the greatest learning needs. Because TISA is a student-weighted funding formula, it is allocating more resources to school districts for:
Economically disadvantaged students and communities with concentrated poverty: TISA will double our support for low-income students who attend schools with high proportions of low-income students.
Rural students: TISA introduces clear supports for rural students that did not exist before, taking into account some of the unique challenges faced by Tennessee’s rural school districts.
Unique learning needs: TISA increases support for students with disabilities and English Learners and ensures that those needs are differentiated.
Career and college readiness: TISA provides direct funding for career and technical education and provides additional funding to allow districts to be innovative in their advising approaches to prepare students for life beyond high school. TISA also introduces improvement in college and career readiness outcomes as a factor in funding.
Students in public charter schools: Public charter schools, which educate high proportions of students of color and economically disadvantaged students, will receive more direct funding to serve their students. In addition, in the upcoming school year, the state has appropriated $38 million for charter facilities and raised the recurring state funding from $6 million to $22 million.
In addition, TISA recognizes that many students have multiple learning needs, so the formula will stack these student weights. In practice, this means that TISA will, for example, fund a rural student living in an economically distressed county who is studying for a career in automotive services at a higher level with weights for sparse population, concentrated poverty, and career and college readiness.
In addition, TISA will incorporate this year’s historic $1 billion additional K-12 education funding. With the added funding, districts can help students by investing the resources to address achievement gaps, improve early literacy rates, and provide additional learning supports. Educators deeply care about seeing their students succeed, and SCORE stands ready to support strong implementation and ensure investments are made as the formula intends: to target more support to students who need the most support. We have important work ahead to ensure the promise of this new policy is realized in practice.
Finally, TISA will provide new transparency to families, voters, and policymakers about whether the additional investments are producing the intended outcomes for students. SCORE will be closely monitoring the results to ensure students are receiving the deeper support they need, and we will be continually engaging with educators and policymakers to urge improvements and refinements where needed.
TISA would not have happened without strong and committed leadership from Governor Lee, Commissioner Schwinn, and the Tennessee General Assembly. I’m also grateful for the partnership from so many education advocates and organizations from across our state who have been committed to reimagining funding education in a way that would most benefit students.
Tennessee is once again leading the way for students; this new policy and investment will prepare them for greater success in school, college, career, and life.
David Mansouri is president and CEO of SCORE.