In 1835, a new Tennessee constitution established a “common school fund,” a perpetual fund intended to ensure quality public education statewide. Today, after nearly 200 years of revision and reform, Tennessee’s public schools continue to serve as the foundation of economic development in our communities and across our state.
Here in our community, together, the Fayetteville City School System and the Lincoln County School System serve over 5,500 students from pre-K through 12th grades. Ensuring each child receives a quality education and is ready for career and life is a monumental task, and the outcome of our work in the public schools will truly determine the future potential of Fayetteville and Lincoln County.
If public education is this important, every voter would do well to stay informed and speak up, but what issues are important to public schools? What bills are lawmakers in Nashville considering that could have positive or negative impact on our public schools?
At the annual Tennessee School Boards Association convention last November, an assembly of delegates representing the 141 public school systems across the state approved a legislative agenda of positions we believe are important to all public schools. During the 111th Tennessee General Assembly, TSBA will be busy advocating for these pro-public schools positions, including:
Local Control of Schools: We believe local boards of education are best equipped and informed to make decisions to address the needs and challenges of their local schools. TSBA will oppose any efforts to diminish or impede upon this local control. Frankly, what works in Nashville, Memphis, or Knoxville may not work in Fayetteville and Lincoln County. We want the state to continue to allow our locally elected school boards and professional administrators, teachers, and staff to decide what works best in our community.
Teacher Salaries: Perhaps it will surprise you to learn that the state’s Basic Education Program doesn’t fully fund positions of teachers and staff. Indeed, school systems receive about 70% of the funds necessary for the instructional positions determined by the state’s funding formula, and school systems must find ways to cover the remaining costs of the additional teachers the system must employ to comply with state laws. For years, public school systems have appealed to the General Assembly to fully fund the BEP, and 2019 is no different. Again this year, TSBA is urging lawmakers to provide all necessary funding for the total number of teachers each individual school is required to employ to meet student-teacher ratios under state law.
Funding of School Nurse Positions: The formula used by Tennessee’s Basic Education Program to calculate funding for school nurses is currently based on one nurse for every 3,000 students. We think that level of funding is inadequate, so TSBA urges the General Assembly to lower the Basic Education Program nurse-to-pupil ratio to one nurse for every 700 students to help meet the needs of students.
Publicly Funded Vouchers: TSBA opposes any legislation or other similar effort to create a voucher program in Tennessee that would divert money intended for public education to private schools or organizations. One thing’s for sure: Tennessee’s education budget is limited; there are only so many dollars. Every dollar taken away from public schools negatively impacts their ability to accomplish their constitutionally-mandated responsibility to educate children.
Next time, I’ll discuss two other important issues in education: school safety and testing requirements.
Until then, consider reaching out to State Sen. Shane Reeves and State Reps. Pat Marsh and Rick Tillis. They are representing our community’s interests on Capitol Hill in Nashville, and they need to hear from you!