The Basic Education Program: How the Volunteer State’s Education Funding Formula Doesn’t Make the Grade

November 15, 2021 12:58PM

Although school funding discussions usually center around how much is allocated to schools, very rarely do people understand the amount that actually goes to K-12 education, and even fewer understand how those dollars are calculated. During the 2019-2020 school year, the grand total of all expenditures for Tennessee public schools was $11,496,616,594— more than double the amount spent on education in 1992, even after inflation, according to a recent report. Yet much of these funds did not make it to the classroom, with the Beacon Center’s recent report, “A Little Less Conversation…A Lot More Spending” finding that only 53 percent of operating expenditures were spent on instruction, much less than the national average of 60 percent. This shortcoming is due in part to the large growth in administrative positions and expenditures, which are keeping ever-increasing amounts of taxpayer dollars from reaching the place where they can have the biggest impact: the classroom. If Tennessee is investing more each year in education funding, yet nearly half those dollars do not make it to the classroom, it begs the question of how public education is funded in the first place.

By adopting a student-based funding approach, not only will Tennessee students be supported according to their unique needs, but transparency will come to public education funding and spending, which will fully equip parents, policymakers, and the public on how those dollars are being spent. This transparency will allow them to compare schools’ stated goals to spending patterns and analyze old policies or procedures that may not be serving students as well as they initially intended. Finally, policymakers and the public will be empowered to see whether school leadership is serving students and stewarding tax dollars well.