In 1992, the Basic Education Program (BEP) served as legislative reaction to the Tennessee Supreme Court's resolution of a series of lawsuits filed by a coalition of school systems who successfully challenged the state's method of funding K-12 public education.  While the BEP was an improvement to its predecessor, legitimate concerns regarding inequities within the formula have, once again, placed the state at serious risk of judicial intervention. 

The privilege of Chairing the Senate Education Committee has brought with it an enhanced opportunity to listen to stakeholders keenly involved and interested in the success of our public education system.  Business leaders, educators, city and county officials and concerned parents all agree:  Tennessee must improve not only the way we fund public schools and prepare our children in this ever-changing global economy, but we must also increase accountability in achieving those goals.

In the face of political and fiscal minefields, it would be easy to simply approach these chronic flaws in a short-sighted manner; passing to future legislatures and Governors the more difficult task of systemic reform.  In essence, continue to spend more money on a broken system and wait for the lawsuits to flow. 

Needless to say, this method would be exponentially more expensive to the citizens we serve without improving the quality of our education system.

Thankfully, we have a much more productive and less expensive option.

Senate Finance Chairman Randy McNally and I were tasked by Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey and Senate Republican Leadership to share our ideas and work with our Governor and the House Finance and Education Committee Chairs to develop a comprehensive, forward- looking and fiscally responsible solution to our current public education funding dilemma.

This extraordinary blend of bipartisan legislative cooperation, a strong advocate in the Executive branch and positive economic conditions has created the opportunity of a perfect storm to move beyond simply treating the symptoms of Tennessee's education funding ills to working toward a cure. 

The proposed solution we developed with Governor Bredesen, known as BEP 2.0, has thus far garnered positive reactions from legislators, citizens and educators. All of whom have provided valuable input.

BEP 2.0 provides significant improvements:  increasing the state's share of instructional funding to 75%; targeting funding for at-risk students and English Language Learners; increasing teacher pay while encouraging local systems to develop effective strategies for addressing increasing teacher shortages in areas such as math and science.  These improvements move to a fairer, simpler and more transparent method of measuring a county's ability to fund schools along with clear accountability.

The work continues to incorporate the valuable suggestions of legislators and the citizens we serve.

In the end, we have a rare opportunity to adopt a proactive, fiscally responsible approach to repairing our funding formula which will shift the conversation of public education from broken formulas and potential lawsuits to preparing Tennessee's children for success in this global marketplace.

 

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