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Kyle Kurlick

House panel tables teacher pay funding discussion until summer

Despite threat of a lawsuit against the state by several large school districts, Tennessee legislators decided Tuesday they aren’t ready to tackle the state’s complex education funding formula that’s causing exasperation among local school administrators.

Rep. Harry Brooks (R-Knoxville) recommended that a bill related to the funding formula and teacher pay be studied further this summer by the House Education Administration and Planning subcommittee.

House Bill 824 – which includes a fiscal note of about $500 million – would require the state to allot more money to local school districts for teacher salaries so that all teachers across the state could make at least $50,000. Currently, the state provides about $38,000 per teacher to districts but, because most school funding in Tennessee is raised locally, a wide disparity exists in overall teacher pay from district to district.

Tennessee ranks 40th in the nation in teacher pay and 42nd in education spending overall as of 2011-2012, the most recent year for which federal data is available.

“This [bill] would simply reflect for the first time what districts are actually having to spend to hire and retain teachers,” said Rep. Jason Powell (D-Nashville), the House sponsor, who concurred with Brooks’ recommendation for further study.Several school systems are considering lawsuits against the state for inadequate funding, and some of their concerns would be alleviated if the bill became law.Tennessee’s Basic Education Program (BEP) determines the amount of state funding received by local school districts. Its formula undergoes an annual review by a committee of officials from across Tennessee, who have recommended that the legislature address the widening disparity in teacher salaries.Teacher pay ranges from $39,607 in Grundy County to $56,181 in Shelby County Schools, a salary slightly less than the national average. (See our interactive map of teacher salaries across the state here).Gov. Bill Haslam announced in his State of the State address his proposal to invest an additional $97.6 million in teacher salaries, which would equate to raises of about 4 percent. But that doesn’t necessarily translate to actual 4 percent raises. Districts ultimately get to choose how to spend the state money and how much local funding to add.Haslam has suggested he’s more interested in redistributing existing funds than increasing the overall BEP funding pool. That stance is a source of frustration among local district officials, prompting the school boards of Shelby, Knox and Hamilton counties to explore taking legal action against the state.Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) believes that the legislature has shirked its duty in recent years by not altering the funding structure to include more money for teacher pay.“Gov. Haslam has set the bar to become the fastest-improving state in teacher salaries, but to do that, we have to get serious,” he said. “We as legislators can’t claim to be funding positions for teachers when we’re only paying 80 percent of the actual cost.”Contact Grace Tatter at gtatter@chalkbeat.org.Follow us on Twitter: @GraceTatter, @chalkbeattn.Like us on Facebook.Sign up for our newsletter for regular updates on Tennessee education news.