Democrats in the Tennessee General Assembly are calling on Gov. Bill Lee to increase the state’s spending on public schools.
They claim an increase in the school funding formula is the first step to improving literacy rates.
For years, public school advocates have pursued legal challenges to Tennessee’s school funding formula, called the Basic Education Program. They claim it’s outdated.
Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, told reporters Wednesday that the issue with the BEP is that it underestimates teacher salaries and the cost of other resources.
“Small towns are upset. Big cities are upset. Nobody is pleased with the way the split works,” Yarbro said. “But really, what everyone is upset about … is the state has left local governments holding the bag for what it takes to run a school system.”
That has pushed Democratic lawmakers to ask Lee to spend an additional $1.5 billion to cover teaching positions and other expenses. The state currently spends about $5 billion through the BEP, but Democrats say that’s not enough.
“If we had a state that actually fully funded education, it would transform Tennessee,” says Sen. Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis. “We would have an environment where we have children that can read.”
Akbari was referring to data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released last year, which shows scores for fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math and reading remained stagnant.
The Democrats say they’ll file legislation to adjust the funding formula.
Meanwhile, Lee’s office declined to comment on the criticism. But the office told WPLN News that details about BEP funding will be coming next week, during Lee’s State of the State address.