Tennessee education commissioner visits Ooltewah High School, announces new funding formula updates

Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn and about 100 education leaders, students and state officials gathered at Ooltewah High School on Monday to mark a new public school funding formula, the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement.

The visit was part of the Accelerating TN 2022 Tour, visiting 50 school districts over three weeks to highlight summer learning opportunities as well as local and statewide educational initiatives to improve student achievement.

Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Justin Robertson gave opening remarks.

"We firmly believe that we have a moral obligation to remove barriers for students (so) that they can achieve at high levels and, in fact, thrive," Robertson said. "TISA acknowledges our students of color, our students with disabilities, our English language learners - all of those unique needs that we have to address in order for all of our students to thrive. And so I'm proud that Tennessee has adopted an equitable funding formula."

The new formula will infuse a one-time $250 million investment in educational spending statewide starting this fall. After that, $750 million in recurring funds will be dispersed in fiscal years 2023 and 2024.

The formula is student-weighted. It starts at a base amount of $6,860 per student and then includes additional funding for unique individual student needs, like those who are low-income or have a disability. The formula also allocates direct funds to support areas like early literacy, career and technical education programming, one-on-one tutoring and charter schools.

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Under the new formula, Hamilton County Schools is projected to receive $397 million in fiscal year 2024, $47 million more than the $350 million the system will receive this academic year, according to state Department of Education projections.

"What I deeply believe that TISA will do is it will ensure that every single district has the funds that they need to accelerate achievement and more," Schwinn said.

Schwinn provided an update on the state's next steps for new formula funding, which includes the implementation of the new formula guide that the Department of Education will update each year.

"The thing that we are focused on now is really what does implementation look like? What does it mean to provide professional development and support resources to our school districts, so they feel empowered to make the decisions they know best are for their local communities," Schwinn said. "We will think about strategically investing in things that work, stopping things that don't, but the entire time focusing on students."

Schwinn also announced the Department of Education this week has released proposed rules to implement the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement Act. The draft, she said, was created by input from a variety of stakeholders, including parents, educators, superintendents and business and community leaders. Schwinn invited the public to provide feedback on the rules.

"It will continue to be an inclusive process," Schwinn said. "What I really respect about how this process worked was that it included so many voices in so many different parts of the state."

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Monday's event also featured two panel discussions about the new funding formula's future effect on Tennessee students.

The first included state Senate Finance Chairman Bo Watson, R-Hixson; Fayette County Schools Director Versie Hamlett; state House Education Administration & Planning Subcommittee Chairman Mark White, R-Memphis; and Union City Schools Director Wes Kennedy.

The second included President of Tennesseans for Student Success Adam Lister; TISA Student Subcommittee Chairman and recent graduate from Coffee County High School Elizabeth Brown; President of TennesseeCAN and parent Victor Evans; and the president of the Public Education Foundation Dan Challener.

Many of the panelists expressed excitement about the new formula's increase in career and technical education funding.

"The first thing is that we're really looking to expand and strengthen is our CTE program," Hamlett said. "We really want to be strategic about our workforce development opportunities."

Other panelists praised the new formula's focus on equity.

"I think what's also really important about TISA is it really is focusing on students who we haven't served as well as we need to, particularly low-income students, students with disabilities, students who are English language learners, students of color," Challener said

Monday's stop at Ooltewah High School marks the second week of the Accelerating TN 2022 Tour. Other stops will include visits to summer learning camps and district leadership and community roundtables with Tennessee Department of Education officials.

To submit feedback on the new formula's proposed rules, email Tisa.Rules@tn.gov.

Feedback can also be mailed to: Tennessee Department of Education, Andrew Johnson Tower, 9th Floor, 710 James Robertson Pkwy, Nashville, TN 37243. Attn: TISA Rules

Contact Carmen Nesbitt at cnesbitt@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @carmen_nesbitt.