published Monday, January 20th, 2014

Hamilton County Board of Education urges state BEP funding help

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    Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith said local school board members hope state lawmakers will consider putting more money into schools this year.
    Photo by Maura Friedman.
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The Hamilton County Board of Education last week unanimously passed a resolution asking the state to pull more weight in funding Tennessee's Basic Education Program.

With the state's General Assembly back in session, it's a timely reminder to legislators and the governor that Hamilton County, and the state, need dollars to make diplomas.

"What we would like to see, and I think there's been discussion with legislators, is to begin phasing that money in as funding becomes available," Superintendent Rick Smith said Thursday during the school board meeting.

But it's an initiative that state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, said he'd heard nothing about. Gardenhire, who serves on the Senate's education committee, said Sunday that he was a bit taken aback that the school board would encourage state representatives to take action without first consulting local legislators.

"Passing a resolution without talking to us about it is not really the best way to do it, except maybe to initiate a discussion about it, which I would be glad to do," Gardenhire said before mentioning that he has not seen or heard anything to indicate changes to the BEP are imminent.

Because of Hamilton County's designation as the second-wealthiest county under BEP standards, it receives the second-lowest amount of state funding of any county in Tennessee.

That puts a burden on the county to support education, as the BEP is currently only 50 percent funded.

Gardenhire said he would love to bring changes to the BEP formula that would place Hamilton County in a more financially advantageous position with the funding. But that would be an uphill battle that would essentially mean taking on the rest of the state, he said.

Gov. Bill Haslam will present his 2014-15 spending plan in February, and Republican leaders have warned that money is tight.

The resolution passed by the school board requests that Haslam "adequately fund public education in a way that is commensurate with the more rigorous standards and measures that have been implemented by local education agencies."

State Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, said Sunday she also was unaware of the resolution but would support an increase in BEP funding.

Contact staff writer David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.

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