With education being on the agenda of Tennessee lawmakers this year, organizations across the state are asking for increased funding for schools to counteract long-standing issues complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Tuesday, educators, parents and labor organizations — including Memphis For All, AFL-CIO, Stand Up Nashville, Nashville Organized for Action and Hope and Memphis Labor Council — held a news conference to discuss the challenges facing the state's public school systems.
Tennessee uses a complicated system decide how state education funds are distributed to schools, and lawmakers on both sides of the political spectrum are seeking to overhaul the formula that drives it.
Gov. Bill Lee is seeking to shift the program to a "student-based" formula, as opposed to providing funding at the school system level, critics believe Lee is making attempts to shift state funds to provide subsidies for parents seeking to send children to private institutions.
Metro Nashville Public Schools, Shelby County Schools and 80 other districts are involved in a lawsuit against the state over the funding formula and argue that the state doesn't provide enough money to meet the needs of their students, many of whom live in poverty.
"Without sufficient pay and with increased risks due to COVID, many of my fellow co-workers were forced to leave positions and students that they loved in search of livable wages."
— Esi Akyere Mali Arthur Snodgrass, Metro Nashville Public Schools teacher
"Right now, we really are at a crossroads in terms of what we, the state of Tennessee, as the people who make up the state, will do about this situation," said the Rev. Francisco Garcia, assistant chaplain at Vanderbilt University's St. Augustine's Episcopal Chapel and a host of the news conference.
Other speakers talked about fears that school districts across the state could face severe school faculty shortages as employees face burnout and insufficient pay.
Amanda Mgbodille, parent and substitute teacher at May Werthan Shayne Elementary School, a Nashville school, said that although teachers received a pay raise, other school faculty members are not receiving livable wages, adding that she and her family would not be able to survive on her salary alone.
"Here at my school, we definitely have staffing issues," she said.
Another teacher said that "nearly all supply needs come out of my own pocket," and that state funds were only covering a small fraction of supplies needed for instruction.
"These kinds of factors, class sizes and lack of funds, really make it difficult to meet every student's needs," said the teacher, Julie Trudel.
With a lack of educational funding and livable wages for school faculty, labor organizations say qualified workers will leave school districts in droves, and school systems will be unable to provide adequate support systems for students, such as socio-emotional learning for students facing COVID-related trauma.
"Without sufficient pay and with increased risks due to COVID, many of my fellow co-workers were forced to leave positions and students that they loved in search of livable wages," said Esi Akyere Mali Arthur Snodgrass, an educator for Metro Nashville Public Schools.
Read more at TennesseeLookout.com.
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