Tennessee’s Policy Choice: Stuff Cash in Mattresses While Schools Suffer

Despite years of budget surpluses, school funding remains in the bottom 10 nationally

Andy Spears

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Photo by Heidi Kaden on Unsplash

While Gov. Bill Lee “dreams” of being able to pay starting teachers $50,000 eventually and while the state’s schools languish in the bottom 10 in the nation in overall funding, the state continues to rake in extra cash.

Lots and lots of extra cash.

The numbers this year show a surplus exceeding $2 billion.

Tennessee also had a surplus of more than $2 billion LAST YEAR.

In fact, we keep having extra revenue and policymakers keep NOT investing it in schools.

What should we do with the money?

House Speaker Cameron Sexton thinks we should use our surplus to replace $2 billion in federal education funding.

To be clear, doing so would not change the total dollar amount going to schools — we’d still be in the bottom 10 in the nation in school funding.

Of course, we could use the money to raise teacher pay, invest in infrastructure, and support early literacy.

The state could also afford to make school meals free for all kids.

Alas, instead of actually taking the yearly surpluses and investing more in schools, Tennessee policymakers seem content to leave us at the bottom:

When it comes to school funding, Tennessee lags far behind our neighbors in Kentucky.

Tennessee Education Association President Beth Brown points out the significance of this disparity in a recent email to educators. In it, she notes:

“It’s not about how the funds are divided, it’s about how many state dollars are put into education,” said TEA President Beth Brown. “To get to the Kentucky level of school funding, Tennessee needs $3 billion added to the state education budget.”

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Andy Spears

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