Price tag on schools lawsuit: $700M, maybe more

If successfully, a lawsuit filed against the state by seven Southeast Tennessee counties could require more than $700 million in new state spending, according to the Times-Free Press.

The suit claims Tennessee officials haven’t lived up to the constitutional mandate fleshed out in three earlier state Supreme Court rulings on education funding.

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery’s office, which is seeking to deny the suit class-action status and have it dismissed, contends the state is making good faith efforts on funding and that counties are misinterpreting prior court rulings.

…In their suit, the districts cite any number of BEP Review Committee recommendations they say have been ignored by state officials. But playing it safe, the suit lists dollar amounts only in specific areas affecting what schools are already doing and where the Supreme Court or state law speak.

They are:

‘ Teacher salaries: The suit cites BEP Review Committee estimates of $532 million to cover a $10,000-per-educator “gap” between actual average salaries and the state’s salary schedule.

‘ Health insurance: $32 million to provide a 12th month of insurance because the state doesn’t acknowledge districts are footing year-round costs for educators’ coverage. It used to be just 10 months, but after Hamilton County and the other districts filed the suit, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam added the 11th month into the budget at a cost of $32 million.

‘ Fully funding the state’s share of classroom costs: $132 million. State law says its share is 75 percent, but actual state funding only covers 70 percent.

Add them all up and the figure comes to $698 million.

The suit also names any number of other BEP Review Committee recommendations, but doesn’t put a price tag on them. Some recommendations go back years.

For example, funding the remainder of the 2007 changes known as BEP 2.0 would cost $133.9 million. Reducing class sizes in grades 7-12 is $87.9 million. Hiring enough school nurses to provide one nurse per 1,500 students instead of the current one per 3,000 students is $12.9 million.