NASHVILLE - Gov. Bill Haslam today said he intends to meet with directors of the state's four biggest school systems as three of them - Hamilton, Knox and Shelby schools - explore suing the state over education funding.
"I understand their concerns," the Republican told reporters today following an event in which the governor launched a new community health initiative. "If you remember, the small schools threatened to sue us last year. I'm not certain it's so much of a large school, small school issue. It's how we fund education in Tennessee."
Haslam, who said he could be meeting with the directors as early as next week, added that "I would argue we've had a good track record of doing that through some tough times." He said he has provided $100 million for teacher pay raises in his proposed budget and nearly $50 million to keep up with needs in the state's Basic Education Program funding formula.
The urban schools argue they're getting the short end of the funding stick from the formula. An effort that partially addressed their concerns - dubbed BEP 2.0 - was partially implemented in 2007 by then-Gov. Phil Bredesen through a 42-cent-per-pack hike on cigarettes.
But the remaining funding never came through. School boards in Hamilton, Knox and Shelby counties are actively exploring litigation to force the state to act. Metro Nashville school board members decided Tuesday to let their school director, Jesse Register, first meet with Haslam.
Speaking with reporters, Haslam also continued to express concern about a number of gun-carry bills moving in the Legislature. One, which would do away with bans on guns in public parks, ball fields and playgrounds for people with state-issued handgun permits, won approval Tuesday from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. A campanion bill is expected to come up today finding in the House.
"My concern has been all along the state telling cities and counties what they can do with the parks that they own," Haslam said. "My concern bout this has always come from a who's-property-is-this standpoint rather than a Second Amendment question," Haslam said.
He said he spoke last week with Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke and mayors from Nashville, Knoxville and Memphis who have voiced concerns.
Some lawmakers have linked the need to act now to the fact that the National Rifle Association, which supports the measure, is holding its annual convention in Nashville on April 10.
Haslam, who has "flagged" the bill, indicating his opposition, said the NRA convention has "definitely been mentioned by folks that that's one of the reasons to speed that along.
I understand that. I just always feel like short-term circumstance is not a good reason to drive long-term policy."