BEP Arms Race

The five largest school systems in the state have joined forces to lobby (threaten, cajole, bribe, etc.) the State Legislature for a funding mechanism more favorable to the biggest metro areas.  From yesterday’s Commercial Appeal:

“State funding is not equitable to the larger school systems,” [Shelby Co. Superintendent Bobby] Webb said.

Because sizable school districts are left to depend more on local taxes and less on state money than smaller ones, he said the school board has joined ranks with five of the state’s largest school districts under the Coalition of Large School Systems (CLASS) to fight for better funding.

During the meeting, the board agreed to pay $25,000 to CLASS to hire a lobbyist.

Of course, the very reason that the biggest cities have to depend more on local taxes is because the structure of Tennessee’s funding for education is based so heavily upon the sales tax (where the cities collect sales taxes from surrounding areas with much less retail), and because their overall tax bases — property as well as sales — are so much larger in proportion to others.

That was the basis for the successful rural schools lawsuits that resulted in the creation the BEP (Basic Education Program) more than two decades ago, and the chancellor who declared the case closed just last year openly stated that major changes to the BEP would be grounds to reopen the suits.
Assuming that each of the five school systems (Knox Co., Hamilton Co., Metro Nashville, Memphis, and Shelby Co.) ponied up the same amount, they’ve got $125,000 for a lobbyist now.  My guess is that should buy some pretty hefty effort.

It’s very discouraging to me that they would spend their time and resources on fighting for a bigger share of a too-small pie, when the rest of us are working toward adequate funding for ALL Tennessee students.  Ending the squabbling over crumbs will probably require an approach such as proposed by Comptroller John Morgan, where the State takes on a larger share of education funding (while still allowing local augmentation, rather than requiring a local match for the bare minimum).

Wouldn’t it be far better to actually spend our resources on educating children than on decades-long legal battles?  The lawyers have enough already; the kids don’t.

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