Public Schools: A Smart Investment
When we give our children a good education, we put them on track to become successful adults. These are the skilled workers who attract major employers, the entrepreneurs who start new businesses, the visionaries who lift up communities. Unfortunately, in 2021 Tennessee ranked 44th out of 50 states for how much funding it devotes to its K–12 schools. As a member of the TN House, I’ll work to restore full funding to our traditional public schools, with input from teachers, parents, students, and grassroots organizations like UnifiEd. Our children are our future. Let’s invest in them.
During the tenure of Governor Bill Lee and our current Republican supermajority state legislature, morale among Tennessee’s public-school teachers has plummeted. We’re losing talented educators to other states and other careers. That’s terrible news for our children and for Tennessee’s economic future. It's critical that we fully fund our traditional public schools, pay our teachers competitive salaries, and give them the resources to do their jobs well.
In April 2022, the Republican lawmakers in Nashville closed the legislative session by quickly passing a massive piece of legislation that will change how our K–12 schools are funded. It does provide some new funding (the official selling point). It also provides more funding per pupil for schools that serve disadvantaged communities, rather than the previous flat per-pupil rate.
Unfortunately, the details of the bill are still murky. But policy experts who've analyzed the legislation say it won’t shift Tennessee’s bottom-of-the-barrel funding rankings. And it appears that Tennessee’s new average per-pupil funding will still be less than half the national average; in fact, it will be less than it was before. So schools that don’t serve disadvantaged communities might actually see their funding fall.
Further, this new legislation follows a playbook being adopted by red states across the country, with the apparent goal of gutting the traditional public-school model:
Give political appointees control over what can be taught in public-school classrooms and what books are available in public-school libraries (thus eroding teacher morale).
Starve public schools of funding (thus eroding parents’ confidence in the schools).
Shift public tax dollars away from public schools to a for-profit charter school business established by a private religious college with an overt political agenda to teach kids a propagandized version of American history—not a full and honest version.
I believe every child in Tennessee deserves an excellent neighborhood school whose only agenda is to give its students a complete and fact-based education. Making that happen isn’t just the right thing to do for them—it’s the right thing to do for Tennessee.
A well-run, well-funded neighborhood school is also a community hub, a convenient place where children can participate in extracurricular activities and parents can be actively engaged in their children’s lives during and after school. That benefit should be available to every Tennessee family, regardless of income and zip code.