Education Funding Formula Unveiled, Harwell Enters 5th District Race, and Redistricting Lawsuit Filed

With lawmakers expressing a desire to adjourn the 2022 regular session by mid-April and some committees beginning to announce final calendar dates, it’s starting to feel like the General Assembly is rounding into form, although it appears that the overall volume of legislation traveling through committees is somewhat less than in recent sessions. The legislature has reached the halfway point for budget hearings in committees, and more bills are finding their way to committee agendas. The Cordell Hull building took on a “pre-pandemic” feel this week, with crowded hallways and gathering areas due to a number of groups having “Days on the Hill,” as well as an increasing volume of legislation moving through committees.  

Lee Administration Releases Performance Based Education Funding Formula

Governor Bill Lee’s long-awaited, student-based education funding formula — known as the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA) Act — was unveiled last week, reflecting the Governor’s cornerstone legislative initiative for the 2022 session. At a press conference at the Capitol, the Governor described the plan as “student centered and student focused,” and one that works for families, teachers and the state. In the process, the Governor described the current BEP formula as cumbersome, bulky and outdated, while arguing that the new plan would support students in a transparent way. “The Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement formula will be a powerful tool the state can use to ensure we are putting all students on a path to success,” stated Governor Lee. “By serving our students well and giving the public greater insight into how their tax dollars are supporting students, the TISA represents an exciting opportunity to improve educational outcomes, strengthen our workforce and propel Tennessee forward.” The Governor also argued that “we need to invest more in our public schools in our state, but we don’t need to invest in a bulky, out of date formula. The BEP formula doesn’t deserve a billion dollars to be put in it, but our students do deserve a billion-dollar increase for public education.”

The plan is the culmination of a process that began in October, with numerous stakeholders convening to provide input to various committees.

Beginning in the 2023-24 school year, the TISA formula will invest $9 billion in total education funding, including state and local funds, and includes $1 billion in new recurring state funds and $750 million in one-time state funds this year. Under the proposed formula, local education districts would receive more funding under TISA than they would under the current BEP funding formula, and the total local contribution would not increase for four more years. According to a Tennessean report, under the plan Memphis-Shelby County schools would see a 12% funding increase, Nashville-Davidson County would see a 7% increase, and Knoxville-Knox County would see a 12% increase.

The plan also features a base funding of $6,860 per pupil, weighted for economically disadvantaged students, and anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 in additional funding for students with unique needs. There are also various allowances made for students in grades K-3, and also for fourth grade literacy programs.

As for specific price tags, the TISA formula proposes $6.6 billion for base funding for every K-12 public school student; $1.8 billion in additional funding allocated based on weights to address specific student needs; $376 million in direct funding to support learning opportunities beyond the classroom, like tutoring; and $100 million in outcomes funding to be awarded based on student achievement. Under this formula proposal, $125 million will be allocated to fund an increase in existing teacher salaries this fiscal year, which will carry over to the TISA base component for salaries. In addition, this TISA formula allocates additional education funding for fast-growing school districts with at least 2% growth from the prior school year. The TISA Act also has reporting and district accountability requirements, including an annual report prepared by the Department of Education to be delivered to the General Assembly that details academic analysis, accountability report cards, local district TISA review requests, and a review by the state Comptroller. Additionally, local school boards will have an opportunity to provide input on student achievement each school year and describe how the local budget and expenditures enable districts to progress student outcomes.

The bill must now face the crucible of the legislative process, where seven different committees will vet the proposal before it reaches the respective floors. Some lawmakers have expressed reluctance to pass such significant legislation in a fairly compressed time frame, especially with the widespread desire to adjourn in mid-April and return home to hit the campaign trail and familiarize themselves with what in many cases are decidedly different districts due to redistricting.

Harwell Enters the Race for Tennessee’s 5th Congressional District.

Last week, former state House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) officially announced she will be running for the Republican nomination in Tennessee’s new look 5th Congressional District, joining an increasingly crowded field of candidates. Harwell, who became the first female Speaker in General Assembly history in 2011, stepped down from the post in 2018, when she decided to leave the House and pursue the GOP nomination for Governor. Harwell is a longtime Nashville resident and currently serves on the board of the Tennessee Valley Authority. In entering the race, she joins the likes of Trump-endorsed former State Department aide Morgan Ortagus, former National Guard Brigadier General and Nashville attorney Kurt Winstead – who also joined the race last week — and businessman Baxter Lee.

Tennessee Sued Over New State Redistricting Maps

Last Wednesday, three private citizens filed suit against Gov. Bill Lee, Secretary of State Tre Hargett, and Tennessee Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins, alleging the General Assembly unconstitutionally drew and passed the new state House and Senate district maps to further entrench the Republican supermajority. The lawsuit is backed by the Tennessee Democratic Party and was filed in Davidson County Chancery Court. While the suit does not address the General Assembly’s new congressional district lines, which divide Nashville three ways, that map is expected to be the subject of additional litigation in the future.

Looking Ahead

With lawmakers targeting a mid-April adjournment, the next several weeks will be fast and furious in terms of legislative activity, with many bills seeing their fate determined over the next 3-4 weeks.