Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee returned to his alma mater, Franklin High School, on Monday to sign into law the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement Act, which revamps state funding for schools.
Tenn. Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton, State Sen. Jack Johnson, State Rep. William Lamberth, Sen. Bo Watson, Rep. Mark White, Rep Kirk Haston and Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn and Williamson County Schools Superintendent Jason Golden all joined Gov. Lee on stage in the FHS auditorium for the signing that Lee called a “historic day for public education,” and a change that was “long overdue.”
“We wanted to make sure that we have heard from Tennesseans who are stakeholders in this effort, parents, teachers, administrators, advocacy groups, anyone who was interested in this piece of legislation and the future of our K-12 school systems, and we think this will take us to a new frontier,” Lee said.
“It is a student-based funding plan that considers the unique needs of students and subsequently funds a district based on their needs as a result of their students,” Lee said, giving examples such as districts in rural areas or economically disadvantaged students. “Districts are not one-size-fits-all, and neither are students, and this funding formula takes that into account.”
As reported by the Nashville Scene, along with TISA Act the governor is adding $1 billion of new funding to bring state and local education funding to a total of $9 billion.
The funding change replaces the state’s Basic Education Program which has been in use for the past 30 years.
“We knew we had a problem, we knew we had a formula that did not work, and we’ve known that for a number of years, but it’s one of those third-rails of politics that nobody was really willing to tackle it and take it on,” bill sponsor Sen. Johnson said. “We all knew it needed to be done, but thanks to this governor and this commissioner of education, they said, ‘It’s time, it’s time we do it no matter how difficult it’s going to be, we need to tackle this problem,’ and that’s what they did.”
While Lee championed the new law as one that will see an increase in funding to every district, some education leaders have expressed their concern over the legislation, with Metro Nashville Public Schools Director of Schools Adrienne Battle questioning the true fiscal impact on MNPS in March.
Other criticisms have included questions over what the state defines as “economically disadvantaged,” concerns over transparency and the speed at which the bill moved through the legislature.
While the legislation doesn't mention vouchers, critics have questioned how this revamped funding initiative may relate to Lee’s previous efforts to push a new education voucher program, which passed in the legislature by a single vote in 2019 and is now the subject of a lawsuit that claims that the effort is unconstitutional.
“When I consider what the public education system did for me, when I consider the passion of the teachers that I had from first through twelfth grade," Lee said. "We didn’t have kindergarten then in the school that I went to, but I can count and name the teachers who were passionately interested in me and that were hopefully and poured their lives into my individual success, and I know that they were doing that for every kid in the classroom.
“The challenge in that, the ability for us to provide additional funding so they’ll have the resources that they need, the technology that they need, it’s only one step, but I think it’s an incredibly important step in reminding us that the vast number of children who are educated in Tennessee in our public school systems. We need to continue to look at ways to improve and invest and make sure that every kid in Tennessee has the greatest opportunity possible to find what their definition of success is in their life.”