After months of collecting contributions from across the state on how Tennessee should fund its multibillion-dollar K-12 education system, Gov. Bill Lee and Education Commissioner Penny Schwin say they are close to finally unveiling their plan for how the formula should be rewritten.
Proponents say the goal is to complete the overhaul by the end of the legislative session. However, many in the Republican-dominated General Assembly have not yet had a chance to deal with the new proposal. Lee and Schwin promise that the law will be published on February 24, which may give lawmakers just a few weeks to take on the big task.
“Time is running out,” Senator John Lundberg, acting chairman of the Senate education committee, told reporters last Thursday. “Honestly, I’d like to see it this week, but I’ll see it next week.”
Although Tennessee lawmakers do not have a deadline when they have to postpone the meeting, most of them are currently running for re-election and seeking to run for office. This forced them to close their business as soon as possible.
Over the past two weeks, Lee has held two press conferences, at which he promised that an updated formula will appear soon. He then announced in a news release on Tuesday that an official proposal would appear next week.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen an announcement that we’re going to have an announcement,” said Senate minority leader Jeff Yarbro, a Democrat from Nashville.
Yarbro added that it was “reckless” to try to review public education funding without giving lawmakers and the public enough time to review legislation.
But Lee recently said he had “everyone expects us to do this during the current legislative session.”
Speaker of the House of Representatives Cameron Sexton, a Republican from Crossville, said he would not criticize the amount of time it took the Lee administration to prepare a funding proposal, saying that if they needed extra time, “That’s fine.”
The basic education program, which has been running for nearly 3 decades, uses 45 components to determine each school’s funding for expenses, including teachers ’salaries. He was criticized as complex and outdated and even faced lawsuits from school boards, which said it was inconsistent with Tennessee’s constitutional obligation to provide students with “free, adequate and fair education.”
One lawsuit, originally filed six years ago on behalf of more than half of the state’s school districts, is due to take place in late October.