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Legislators speak on funding public education

In this third part of the Legislative Breakfast series, state Rep. Paul Sherrell, state Rep. Rush Bricken and state Sen. Janice Bowling answer questions regarding the Tennessee governor’s plan to revisit the state’s Basic Education Program.

Q. With recent news of Governor’s Office plans to revisit funding for Tennessee’s Basic Education Program, do you have any thoughts or ideas about what should or shouldn’t be brought into that discussion?

Janice Bowling  

“I do and it might not seem very popular, but I hope you will listen. BEP funding has always had some complaints. Some people didn’t like it, but it did work for Tennessee for a number of years. We did revamp it just a few years ago to make it more equitable for all of the school systems, but it was trying to make sure that based on average daily attendance that this money would come back to the local schools, and that’s good. 

What is looked at now, they did eight town hall meetings across the state. I’m always concerned when I hear a solution has already been proposed before the fact gathering and listening tour has taken place. That makes it seem like that maybe there was already a plan of action and you’re putting political cover over that plan of action. 

I think enrollment in public education is dropping and it will continue to drop because the baby boomers and their children have already gone through. The people from the generations following us, there are fewer people. So, we have seen a drop and the projections are that it will continue to drop. I think they are looking at ways to fund it that will not have any correlation to the number of children that are in the schools. 

If you think about our $42 billion budget, the top third goes to TennCare and the second third goes to education, which is the large discretionary budget in the state of Tennessee which is over 1/3 of $42 billion. 

I’m going to educate you on a different subject right now. When you look at $1,000,000, three stacks of $100 bills, each one a yard high. When you look at $1 billion, three stacks of $100 bills which would reach as tall as the Empire State Building. Sometimes we say million, billion, trillion and we do not stop to realize that is real money. That is significant money. I hope that what they find out are ways to be more accountable and ensure the money actually ends up in the classroom. Tennessee has one of the lowest rates right now of the money getting into the classroom and one of the highest rates of it staying in the bureaucracy in Nashville. We do not need to be funding that kind of bureaucracy.”

Paul Sherrell

“We are in the beginning of this and hearing our government really talk about doing something different with our education system. I have listened a little bit to him (Gov. Bill Lee) and there is a whole lot to learn about what he has in mind and what others have in mind about what they are wanting to do in this changing education. I am not really familiar with it and what all is in this package." 

"I definitely want to be open to listen to see what is in it. We want to take care of our children. I have a son that’s in high school in White County. We definitely want to take care of our young people and hopefully see they get an education and do what we can to support that. Right now, I am just open to see what’s in it, but we want to do the best we can to take care of them.”

Rush Bricken 

“What I would say is a repeat of what Janice and Paul just said. Hopefully, there are very smart people working on this and will figure out something that’s better. Education is very personal. There will be a lot of people involved in this decision. One thing that I have not heard, which I certainly hope will come out of it, when I have talked to a lot of educators is the volume and the growing amount of students being homeschooled and how that factors into the BEP formula. Again, I know there are good results in homeschool education and there’s probably poor results. I am not here to speak on that, but it seems the numbers need to be somehow captured in the education funding somehow.”

In the next issue of the Southern Standard, the candidates will expound upon the potential redistricting plan and employment.