BEP panel changes priorities after filing of lawsuit

A state panel that makes annual recommendations for improving Tennessee’s school-funding formula has abruptly dropped years of previously made and often-ignored priorities from its latest report, reports Andy Sher.

Those same dust-gathering recommendations were cited last spring by (Chattanooga area) education boards in a lawsuit alleging the state is not paying anywhere near the actual costs of educating students.

The exclusion of most past recommendations from the Basic Education Program Review Committee’s Nov. 1 report roused suspicions.

“What changed?” asked Dr. Jonathan Welch, a Hamilton County school board member. Hamilton and six nearby counties sued Gov. Bill Haslam and state lawmakers last spring over funding. Shelby County school leaders have filed a separate suit.

Welch said the annual report “was very consistent for years and then it was different this year.”

Asked if he thought the dropped items had anything to do with the lawsuit, Welch said, “it may. I think that’s a question for the Review Committee and those who put it together.”

Dr. Sara Heyburn, executive director of the Tennessee Board of Education, said in an email that the review committee’s move had nothing to do with the two lawsuits pending before a Davidson County judge.

“The BEP report reflects the BEP Review Committee’s 2015 priorities as well as a collective, ongoing commitment to Tennessee’s teachers and students,” Heyburn said. She noted that the report and recommendations were adopted with no dissenting votes at public meetings, and said there was a “concerted effort to make the 2015 documents more succinct and focused for the state’s policy makers.”

The committee deleted an entire section that was listed in the 2014 document as “Additional BEP Formula Improvements Recommended in Previous Years as an extended priority.”

One dropped item was continued implementation of the 2007 formula revamp known as BEP 2.0. Others included reducing class sizes and creating new components for professional development and mentoring; doubling the number of school nurses from one per 3,000 students to one per 1,500, and adding technology coordinators. Most go back to at least 2007.