Moore County Director of Schools urges citizens to speak up as state discuses potential changes in education funding

According to Moore County Director of Schools Chad Moorehead, children in rural districts like Moore County could get left out if educators and parents don’t speak up during Governor Lee’s education funding formula review. (File Photo)

STATE NEWS — Living in one of the most famous small towns in America is great but there are times that our small population numbers can leave us left out and Governor Bill Lee’s intention to review the formula used statewide to fund public schools could be one of those times unless Moore County parents and citizens speak up.

“We need to provide input,” said Moore County Director of School Chad Moorehead. “If not, the input received from larger, more urban districts will prevail and small rural school systems will have to get by with whatever is left.”

There are many funding nuances that are transparent to most citizens according to Director Moorehead. Small districts like Moore County often have fixed costs that require more funding per student to operate. 

According to that state, the review process will last approximately 90 days and will be executed by committees made up of stakeholders including administrators, student subgroups, educators, parents, and members of the general public. State officials have asked Director Moorehead to sit on one of the many subcommittees that will review input gathered from Tennesseans. He will participate as one of 12 School System Leadership Subcommittee members.

Some of the points he intends to address include the following:

  • Every school should have, at minimum 1 school nurse.
  • Every school should have at minimum 1 school counselor, but at least one for every 250 students.
  • Every high school should be funded for a post secondary counselor/coach.
  • Every school should have at least one assistant principal, but at least one for every 200 students.
  • Every school should have at least one School Resource Officer.
  • Every school should have a teacher for music and art.
  • Every school system should have at least one teacher for students that do not speak English as their primary language at home.
  • Every school system should be funded for translation services for  students that do not speak English as their primary language at home.
  • Small school systems and rural school systems should have funding to significantly increase opportunities for students to participate in career technical education.
  • Small school systems and rural school systems should have funding to significantly increase the opportunities for advanced coursework such as Advanced Placement courses and dual enrollment courses for college and high school credits.
  • School systems should not be required by law to provide services that are not state funded.

Tennessee ranks 44th in education funding in the nation

Public school systems across the state are funded primarily through property tax dollars. The amount each school receives is determined by something called the Basic Education Program or BEP — a formula that generates a total amount of dollars needed per school system that determines how much of the funding is the responsibility of the state and how much should come from local funding bodies.

Currently education sits on the state’s budget as its single biggest state-level line item at $5.6 billion per year for K-12 education but Tennessee spending per pupil still lags behind other states. Tennessee ranks 44 among 51 other states when it comes to education funding. According to a recent Education Law Center report, Tennessee spends about $10,894 — about $4,000 less per pupil than the nationwide average. Tennessee also makes a lower average effort to fund schools, according to the report, spending just 2.59 percent of the state’s GDP in education compared to 3.38 percent nationally.

To access that report, click here.

What could this mean for Moore County?

Governor Lee and Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn have stated that they want to create a brand new funding method “from the ground up” that takes a student-centered model such as student-based budgeting or a weighted-student formula. By contrast, student enrollment is the primary determining factor of the BEP. In some larger counties like Davidson or Shelby, BEP funds make up only a percentage of the school budget. Smaller, more rural counties like Moore County are funded almost entirely by BEP.

BEP arose as a way to protect smaller school systems following a 1993 lawsuit brought against the State of Tennessee and then Governor Ned McWherter by the Tennessee Small School Systems, a group of 77 rural school districts including Moore County. The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled in favor of rural school districts stating that the previous funding strategy “violated the equal protection clause of the Tennessee Constitution.”

Less state funding could mean higher property taxes for Moore County citizens as local elected officials would be faced with a choice of either cutting spending or asking for a local tax increase to make up the difference.

“Our schools must be considered in this formula or the new funding mechanism will require more property tax from Moore County citizens,” Director Moorehead told The Times.

According to the state, all Tennesseans — including parents and families, teachers, students, elected officials, stakeholders and partners, business leaders and members of the general public—are invited to submit public comment by emailing [email protected].

To learn more about the Tennessee K-12 Public Education Funding Engagement, visit this state website. •

{The Lynchburg Times is the only independently owned and operated newspaper in Lynchburg. We cover Metro Moore County government, Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Nearest Green Distillery, Tims Ford State Park, Motlow State Community College, Moore County High School, Moore County Middle School, Lynchburg Elementary, Raider Sports, plus regional and state news.}