BEP Review: Final Report

The BEP Review Committee met again this morning to resolve their last piece of unfinished business: to issue a recommendation on system-level fiscal capacity, deferred from the Nov. 1 Annual Report.

Last year, the General Assembly passed a resolution directing the BEP Review Committee to provide a “consensus recommendation on a system-level fiscal capacity model.” This was a tall order, as the BEP Review Committee is by definition representative of all constituencies — large, urban school systems; small, rural school systems; municipal and independent school systems; the House and Senate Education Committee chairs; the State Board of Education; Tennessee School Boards Association; the Tennessee Municipal League; the Tennessee County Commissioners Association; along with various representatives from State offices like TACIR, the Comptroller, the Governor’s office, etc.

Because everyone on the committee represents a particular interest, it’s impossible to gain consensus on anything that’s going to harm some, in order to help others. And, as was pointed out in today’s meeting, defining what is needed to meet the goals of state education policy is the group’s real focus — fiscal policy really belongs in the hands of the General Assembly.

I agree.

Ultimately, the committee agreed that they cannot reach what the Legislature demanded: a “consensus recommendation on a system-level funding formula.” Their recommendation will be that the system-level funding formula be combined with a broader legislative discussion of adequacy in education funding statewide.

Several groups are now working on defining “adequacy” in terms of education funding, including one working with the University of Washington, sponsored by the Gates Foundation. Another is the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents.

A second resolution passed today directed the State Board of Education to conduct a study of current school system expenditures by category, in order to determine the areas in which the BEP is falling short of meeting the needs of school systems, and that this study begin soon — not next Fall, as is usually the case.

Several people on the committee surprised me by making a rather dramatic turnaround from previous positions, including TACIR’s Harry Green, who said (prior to his motion on the recommendation, which passed):

I hate to spend so much time talking about fiscal capacity when the system is failing. Redistrubuting money isn’t going to change the educational outcome if we are not addressing adequacy.

Gee, couldn’t we have saved about three years if everyone realized this sooner? Still, better late than never.

We’ll have to watch the Legislature very closely this year, but if they truly comprehend this recommendation, it will be okay.

3 Responses to “BEP Review: Final Report”

  1. on 25 Jan 2007 at 8:32 pm University Update

    BEP Review: Final Report…

  2. on 26 Jan 2007 at 11:58 am AT

    Dude, I just read that twice, and I don’t understand it. Lets hope the Legislature is smarter than I…

  3. on 26 Jan 2007 at 12:27 pm Netmom

    Don’t bet on it, AT. They’re not.

    “Fiscal capacity” is a complicated formula that the State uses to determine a local government’s ability to pay. Rural counties tend to have lower property values and not much sales tax revenue compared to large, urban areas (like Knoxville, Nashville, Memphis, Chattanooga, etc.). Thus, the counties with smaller tax bases get more revenue per pupil than counties with larger tax bases.

    Obviously, the big cities have the largest tax bases, so they’re expected to use more local revenue for education, and receive less from the state.

    The complaint has been that city school systems (which receive additional funding from their city budgets) and special school districts (which have their own taxing authority) receive the same number of dollars per pupil as the county they’re located in. That’s not quite fair — it’s like saying that Anderson County has the same ability to pay as Oak Ridge. We know that’s not true. However, the formula proposed by TACIR used the wrong variables, counting what a local government DOES contribute as being the same thing as what they CAN contribute.

    They call it a “behavioral model” (what you ARE doing) as opposed to a “normative model” (what you COULD do).

    The adequacy part is key: the State, as a whole, spends too little on education. Period. That’s why every school system in the state except one spends more local money than they are required to, simply because “basic” isn’t good enough. “Basic” isn’t adequate.

    If the state provided enough money per pupil to provide an adequate education for each child, there would be very little squabbling over the fairness issue.

    Think of it this way: if you prepare an adequate amount of food for supper, your children are not likely to fight over who got more than his fair share, even if one eats more than the other. If both are satisfied, there isn’t a problem.

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