Breakfast with the Legislators

Patrick Smith, Legislative Liason to Governor Bredesen, attended the Oak Ridge League of Women Voters‘ “Breakfast with the Legislators” program this morning, courtesy of Sen. Randy McNally.

Patrick reiterated the Governor’s commitment to improvements in education funding, including $95 million in new dollars to fully fund the BEP, plus $20 million in new dollars to address ELL and at-risk students (translation: ELL= students who speak English as a second language, if at all; at-risk= poor). The proposed change to a system-level fiscal capacity model is not in this year’s budget, although it remains likely, according to Smith, that it may be introduced in the Legislature. It’s possible that one or more legislators may try to redirect the new funding in Bredesen’s budget toward the proposed system-level model, which would significantly impact how the funds are distributed among the state’s school systems.

In response to a question about why Tennessee doesn’t look to how other states handle the fiscal capacity issue in education funding, Smith answered that the State Board of Education is looking at doing that through a conference, perhaps as early as this Summer. That’s needed, because as he noted in his opening remarks, there are lawsuits pending or in progress in 20-25 states based not on equity, but adequacy — a completely different (and healthier) debate.

As has been noted in the past, so long as we’re talking about equity, we’re mostly talking about equally inadequate. As pointed out in a 2003 Comptroller’s report (“Funding Public Schools: Is the BEP Adequate?“). What is adequate? From the report referenced:

In contrast to a Basic funding system focusing on inputs, Adequacy refers to a funding system that gives students “access to educational resources and opportunities adequate to achieve desired educational outcomes.”

If every school system had adequate funding, there would likely be a lot less complaining about equity, since everything above adequate would have to come from local taxpayers’ desire to fund improvements.

The general impression is that the change to a system-level model won’t happen this year. I hope that’s correct, but NOW is the time to make sure we’re working toward an eventual solution that improves education statewide, while respecting the efforts of communities that are already carrying a heavier share of responsibility than most.

If we quit working toward that goal or even relax for a few months, it is inevitable that those who seek gains for their own districts at the expense of others would redouble their efforts and likely succeed.

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