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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Angelica Acevedo, of Chattanooga in Action for Love, Equality and Benevolence, asks a question. The Tennessee Department of Education held a public town hall on November 4, 2021, at Howard School, to open dialogue and discussion on Tennessee's review of a student-based public education funding strategy. The Chattanooga area town hall will take place in-person and will also be livestreamed. on November 4, 2021

Hamilton County parents, educators and community members called for smaller class sizes, better support for low-income students, increased post-secondary opportunities beyond college tracks and better teacher pay as part of a listening session to discuss Tennessee's plan to rebuild public education funding.

The town hall, hosted at the Howard School, is part of a statewide tour of events as Tennessee crafts a new funding model in the coming months.

Penny Schwinn, state education commissioner, told those gathered that they had a "once in a lifetime opportunity" to change education in the state.

"School funding is one of the most important policy decisions that we make in the state," Schwinn said. "It's how we invest in our students, and it's really the foundation for the outcomes we expect to get from them, which sets them up to be successful in the future."

(READ MORE: Memphians want more for special education, high-poverty schools)

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Chattanooga area residents seek smaller classes, more support, at education funding forum

 

The state is attempting to build a student-based funding formula in which funding for the individual needs of each student is tallied up to create an education budget. The state previously funded schools by calculating the total amount of funding for each school system and splitting the funding responsibility between local and state governments.

The town halls are being promoted as a way for residents to weigh in on what needs the most attention in the education budgets.

Angelica Acevedo, an organizer with Chattanooga in Action for Love, Equality and Benevolence, said the state should provide between 100% and 200% more funding for the most at-risk students.

"We need a simplified student-weighted funding formula guided by students' different levels of needs with the goal of eliminating student achievement and opportunity gaps," Acevedo said. "The state must provide clear dollar allocations by assigning additional weights for students from low-income families, English learners, students with disabilities and rural students."

(READ MORE: Hamilton County Commission approves architecture firm to design new Tyner middle/high school)

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Stay engaged

Tennessee residents are invited to stay involved in the state’s education funding process by signing up at bit.ly/TNedchange.

 

Christy Carroll Highfill, president of Hamilton County Council of PTAs, said better funding for support services will allow students to go to their zoned schools in their communities, rather than having to travel farther away to access needed resources. She added that arts education helps support the emotional health of students and should be a priority.

Suhirjahaan Morehead, the parent of a Howard student, said funding for English-language learners focuses too much on the language and not enough on other subjects.

"I feel like the focus in a lot of the education that we're having, sure it's great to teach her English and her English is improving rapidly, but at the same time she still needs to be learning," Morehead said. "She still needs to learn math, she still needs to learn science, she still needs to learn everything. And so, I don't want us to look at 'Oh, let's just teach them some English and that's enough,' while they're falling farther and farther behind."

The Department of Education's event in Hamilton County is one of eight town halls on the subject hosted throughout the state.

Contact Wyatt Massey at wmassey@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.

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