TEA’s 20/20 Vision goals are to raise education funding to the Southeast average and stop high-stakes decisions based on standardized testing by the year 2020.
While the General Assembly has increased education funding by $1.5 billion over the past seven years, Tennessee remains behind many neighboring states on investment per student with many needs still unmet.
To get to the regional education funding average for investment per student, the state will need to increase funding by $800 million, a historic but reachable sum.
Such a funding increase can be accomplished without raising taxes or cutting other important government services. It takes the political will created only by an organized movement of educators and parents pushing for funding.
The first step in that movement is knowing state fiscal facts.
Most state sales, business and other taxes are dedicated to the state general fund, and approximately one-third of this fund goes to K-12 education. Growth in general fund revenue has been historic, yet much of the growth was not budgeted.
Because of conservative state budgeting processes, state general fund revenue was $2.4 billion more than budgeted over four years (July 2014 – June 2018). Tennessee K-12 investment would have increased $816 million had this revenue been appropriated, rather than going to the state rainy day fund or one-time capital projects. In the first four months of the current fiscal year (from July 1 to October 30) the state general fund has collected $81 million more than budgeted, on track for a surplus of more than $200 million.
General fund revenue is poised to increase further. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled states can collect sales taxes from online retailers even if the retailer does not have a physical presence in the state. Technically, Tennesseans already owe the tax, but now retailers that don’t collect it will be required to do so after a bill is passed by the General Assembly, adding an estimated $200 million in state sales tax revenue. Clearly revenue is available to get Tennessee to the Southeast average ($800 million) in K-12 investment.
The second step is for educators and parents to push the incoming administration and lawmakers for the funding. One of the best ways to push is to know how well taxpayer education dollars are used.
Tennessee schools get more out of every taxpayer dollar than any state in the South and more than most states in the nation. Tennessee ranks 39th in investment per student yet is ninth in on-time graduation, highest in the region, and only three states have better graduation rates for African American students. Our state ranks sixth in average ACT scores of the 20 states that require all students to take the test. Of those 20 states, Tennessee ranks 14th in funding per student and is $1,235 under the funding average. 64 percent of Tennessee’s high school graduates are now entering college.
Imagine what we would do with more investment in our schools!
The second TEA 20/20 Vision goal is to eliminate high-stakes decisions based on standardized test scores.
There are many high-stakes decisions for teachers, administrators, students, schools and school systems based on test scores. As a result, weeks of instruction are lost to test-prep and classroom practice is warped to meet everything TNReady. This test-and-punish system is also why TEA has had to fight each year for hold-harmless legislation when testing failures and irregularities have made testing penalties not only unfair, but possibly career-ending.
It is time to put testing in its proper place: as a means to improve instruction and assess students, rather than as a punishment or sanction.
Assessments are an important part of education. However, standardized tests, especially secretive systems where parents and teachers cannot review or study the questions or answers, are not going to improve teaching practice. It is time to change state law on testing.