Tennessee Education Advocates Make Push for School Funding

Andy Spears
5 min readApr 21, 2021

A bipartisan commission has said Tennessee is underfunding public schools by $1.7 billion. Meanwhile, the state has a surplus for the current year of over $1.4 billion, and projections are that number will be over $2 billion by the end of the fiscal year. Additionally, state reserve funds are sitting at about $7.5 billion.

Of course, this means that Gov. Bill Lee is planning a big, new investment in a state funding formula that places Tennessee at 46th in the nation in school funding.

Actually, it doesn’t mean that. In fact, Lee recently announced his budget amendment for the 2021–22 fiscal year and it included no appreciable new funding for public schools.

Here’s what the Tennessee Education Association had to say about the proposal:

“With the state bringing in record surplus month after month, there is no excuse to not make significant increases to public education funding. The governor’s budget amendment is woefully short on meaningful K-12 investment.

Without sufficient state investment, school districts cannot afford the nurses, counselors, RTI specialists and social workers our students need. Without sufficient state investment, underpaid teachers will continue to spend hundreds of their own dollars on classroom resources.

The Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) outlined the chronic problems with the BEP, indicating that “fully funding” the state formula would require an additional $1.7 billion in state funding. The current administration proposal is a little more than $200 million.

It is time for the state to do better. The money is there to get Tennessee out of the bottom 5 in state funding. There is no need to raise taxes, only a need to prioritize Tennessee students and public education.”

Lee is apparently not willing to move on the budget issue. Still, a group of education advocates billing itself as the Tennessee Public Education Coalition (TPEC) issued a response to the lackluster budget amendment:

Members of TPEC are deeply disappointed in Governor Lee’s failure to meet even the minimum funding needs of Tennessee’s schools, teachers, and students. Tennessee has long failed to adequately invest in its children. Tennessee ranks 46th nationally in education funding, and the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations reports that…

Andy Spears

Writer and policy advocate living in Nashville, TN —Public Policy Ph.D. — writes on education policy, consumer affairs, and more . . .