How a community pushes back against ‘gross underfunding’ in education

7,000 more teachers are hired than the state's funding formula accounts for, advocates say
By: | March 15, 2021
(AdobeStock/Tom Wang)(AdobeStock/Tom Wang)
Katie Cour, Nashville Public Education Foundation

Katie Cour, Nashville Public Education Foundation

Tennessee’s education funding formula consistently underestimates the amount of money superintendents and their teams need to run public schools, advocates say.

One problem is that approximately 7,000 more teachers are hired statewide each year than the state’s Basic Education Program, or BEP, funding formula accounts for, says Katie Cour, president and CEO of the Nashville Public Education Foundation.

This places “an unattainable burden on local districts,” even in the wealthiest counties, to cover the difference, Cour said.

“Too often people feel relieved when they hear the state has ‘fully funded the BEP,’ but this statement is essentially meaningless,” Cour said. “Tennessee is grossly underfunding schools that serve one million students each year—more than 82,000 just in Nashville.”


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Tennessee ranks 43rd in per-pupil funding, the foundation says, citing statistics from the Education Law Center. Also, per-student spending in the state is about $3,655 less than the national average.

While in many states, state and local funding is evenly split, Metro Nashville Public Schools receives just 25% of its revenue from the state while the rest comes from local tax dollars, the foundation says.


The Nashville Public Education Foundation has released a policy brief suggesting reforms to funding formula, including a set of recommendations made by a state review committee. These reforms include:

  1. Not making funding contingent on enrollment changes in that may have been caused by the pandemic
  2. Continue to increase teacher compensation
  3. Increase funding for technology and accessibility
  4. Fund the number of school counselors and nurses at a level closer to national best practices

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