School funding formula gets look

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By Damon Lawrence

Local officials were happy to hear that Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has formed a task force to study the state’s Basic Education Program.

“I think it’s a good idea,” Roane County Director of Schools Gary Aytes said. “It certainly has some flaws.”

The Basic Education Program, or BEP, is the state’s funding formula for public schools.

“You got the urban systems who are upset,” Aytes said. “You got the rural systems who are upset.”

The governor’s office said the Basic Education Program was last revised in 2007.

“The formula takes factors such as local property and sales tax revenue into account when calculating how much money Tennessee school districts will receive from the state each year,” the governor’s office said in a press release about the task force.

“A number of districts, both large and small, have raised questions and concerns about the formula and whether it distributes funds in a fair and equitable manner.”

Roane County Schools is in the midst of a financial crisis. Local officials have blamed cuts from the state funding formula for some of the system’s financial woes.

“If they would look at that and redo it, it certainly would probably help us,” Aytes said.

“I hope they look at not only at the BEP, but the formulas that feed into it,” County Executive Ron Woody added. “It’s the fiscal capacity that’s causing all the real bad hiccups across the state, gyrating how much state money you’re going to get.”

The governor’s office made the announcement this week.

“The last significant revision of the BEP was seven years ago, and education in Tennessee has changed a lot since then,” Haslam was quoted in the press release. “It is the appropriate time to take a fresh look at the formula, identify strengths and weaknesses and determine whether or not changes should be made.”

Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman will chair the task force.

“The task force will meet over the course of this year and will make recommendations to the governor by the end of the year,” the press release said.

Aytes said he doesn’t expect any relief to come from the task force this year.

“It wouldn’t help us this year, but it could help us at some point in the future,” he said.

State Sen. Ken Yager was glad to hear the governor’s news.

“This change (in 2007)has cost every county in the 12th District combined millions of dollars.”

“I am very pleased that the governor is going to focus on how education funding is delivered to school districts so every Tennessee student receives the opportunities they need to improve,” Yager said. “This is very important.”