Murfreesboro, December 29, 2016– I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and have plans for a Happy New Year. Over the past month or so, a lot has gone on as I’ve prepared for the 110th General Assembly. Between meetings, research, bill preparation, and outreach initiatives, there has been a plethora of information gathered. Prior to session, I hope to address other topics in the coming weeks, but as I have been in several meetings surrounding education, I’d like to start there for a “District Debriefing”.
Not long after the election, I was offered the opportunity to job shadow a teacher at Cason Lane Academy. During the experience, I was able to observe the teachers interact with their students, participate in a Q&A with the students, and listen to teachers and their concerns. The teachers echoed the same sentiments that I have heard throughout the district as I spoke with my constituents. They understand the need for evaluations, but want the process to be fair, consistent, and valid. They are frustrated with constant testing which takes time away from teaching. Frequent changes in standards and curriculum impacts their planning and methods. And perhaps most concerning, many believe that the system is pushing students and teachers to become a statistic, as opposed to fostering individuality with freedom to make a difference. Our teachers love their profession, but, as I have seen in the medical profession, too much of the top down approach has impacted their morale.
Concerning K-12 education funding, I’ve had several meetings addressing budgetary items specifically related to education funding. A frequent topic of discussion amongst school boards and administrators is the Basic Education Program(BEP) formula and funding with complaints of underfunding, unfunded mandates, and unfairness of the system. Suffice it to say that the formula is fairly complex. The bottom line is that the state expects certain levels of quality, but essentially, for budgetary purposes, views each school district as one giant school. However, each school district has multiple schools and their own standards which complicates the funding issue.
As an example, suppose Black Fox has 25 students in 1st grade, and Northfield has 15. For quality, the state requires a 20:1 maximum ratio of students to teachers up to 3rd grade. Therefore, in this example, Northfield would need one teacher and Black Fox would need two. However, the state saw the Murfreesboro City School District as having 40 students, and would only provides BEP funding for two teachers. Whereas, the city, due to local zoning, must have three teachers in this scenario.
Last year, the General Assembly passed the BEP Enhancement Act, which improved funding and the formula. In the above example, it is my understanding that the state would now help fund a greater percentage towards three teachers instead of just funding for two. In my discussions around the Capitol, I believe that there will be improved funding this year in this year’s budget. However, as long as the state and school districts operate under different philosophies, there will be perceived and real disparities with funding.
With the election of Donald Trump and his subsequent appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, I do expect some changes in both philosophy and policy from the federal level. What that will look like and how it impacts our state remains to be seen, but many are speculating about a push for an increase in school choice. Last year, Rep. Dunn brought forth legislation that would have offered opportunity scholarships(otherwise known as vouchers)to certain children in failing school districts. While the bill made it to the House floor, he withdrew the bill due to uncertainty of the vote. Many expect a similar bill to be filed again this year and unless there are major changes, it wouldn’t directly impact Rutherford County.
The school choice issue is a very contentious issue, and I witnessed that firsthand last session. I was very disappointed in the actions of many of those who were partisan ideologues on both sides of the issue as the bill moved forward last session. Those of us that value both liberty for students and parents, respect for our teachers, and understand the constitutional system of free public schools often found the rhetoric and hyperbole an impediment to a rational search for information and sound public policy. Since the election, I have already witnessed some disconcerting behavior from citizens, former candidates, and others related to this issue. As I did last session, I’ve adopted a wait and see attitude, and I will vet any proposed bill while filtering out the rhetoric and partisan nonsense when the time comes.
On the higher education front, earlier this month, I had the opportunity to meet the nominees for MTSU’s new education board that was set forth from the provisions of the Focus Act. The board will allow MTSU, and five other Tennessee universities to have more local control and autonomy. These nominees will need to be confirmed by the General Assembly. Here is a link to the nominees. http://www.mtsunews.com/haslam-local-governing-board/ If you have any issues or concerns, please, let me know prior to confirmation.
As K-12 funding is always an issue, so is funding for higher education. With respect to MTSU, I have met with Governor Haslam’s staff on this issue. How funding will be reflected in the new budget remains to be seen.
As always, it’s and honor and a privilege to serve as your representative, and I am humbled by your support. The best way to contact me is usually via email and I can be contacted at the Capitol at rep.Bryan.Terry@Capitol.TN.Gov or locally at BryanTerry4TN@gmail.com.