The ‘Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement’ is the governor’s new plan to direct per-student funding. But questions remain among Republicans and Democrats over the long-term effect of the massive restructuring.
The ‘TISA’ debate is expected to intensify over the few remaining weeks left in the 112th General Assembly.
“It’s going to take a long discussion, the committee members want to take their time and have discussions — there was an amendment that was dropped early this week for the administration they wanted time to look through that, compare it to the direction that they want to go, compared to what the previous direction was from the governor’s office,” Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton said.
Democrats are calling on the majority party and the governor’s office to slow down amid rapid changes.
“Some of the things Bill Lee is talking about and some of our colleagues across the aisle are talking about sound good, but they’re not in the bill and they’re not funded in the bill and they’re not funded through any other channels,” said Rep. John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) who is chairing the caucus’s education funding study committee.
There’s also concern among lawmakers that after the state reverts back to a 70-30 financial split, where the state will pay 70% and local governments will match with 30% after 4 years, the local cost will increase. Something the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee isn’t seeing at this point.
“The department explained how the maintenance of effort or local contribution — that over time they will catch up — usually by about 2030 for most counties but we’re holding them harmless for the first four years. So I’m not as familiar with the fact that it will increase cost locally,” Sen. Bo Watson said.
But the Commissioner of Education ceded in a committee hearing adding millions of dollars to a formula will increase sharing costs at some point.
And Governor Lee couldn’t make a promise that sometime in the future, taxes will not go up for locals.
“We’ve set it up so they will not be required to increase taxes because there’s no additional share for them — what happens in the future it’s certainly their decision about other spending and how they make decisions about taxes, but it won’t be in these initial years because of this additional funding,” Lee said.
Democrats say the formula that could last multiple decades will eventually put a strain on local districts.
“They’re setting this up for a real, real dangerous situation and it’s ultimately going to fall to local governments to raise taxes it’s inevitable as currently constructed,” Clemmons said.
The Department of Education says, under the current BEP formula, 25 districts would have to increase taxes if additional money is added there.