Governor Bill Lee and Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn Talk ‘Bold’ Education Plan
Governor Bill Lee and Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn discuss the vision to create a student-focused plan for public education funding
Jeremiah O. Rhodes, Nashville Tennessean
The Tennessee Department of Education has contracted a team of national experts to serve as advisors to legislators and school districts during the state education funding review process.
But few other details are known.
The ministry has not yet provided the list of consultants hired or the applications submitted in response to a procurement process that took place in November and December.
The department released three requests for state funding formula and professional development consultants in the weeks following Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn and Governor Bill Lee’s launch of a review process. 90-day review of the current formula – known as the Basic Education Program – in October.
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In December, a department schedule indicated that contracts, which could total up to $150,000, would be approved for three projects: providing professional development to school districts on how public school funding works, serving as advisors to legislators, and serve as consultants to the state.
The state consultant should analyze the hypothetical results of changes to the BEP and produce up to 10 optional policies for the local matching contribution component of any state funding strategy, according to department documents.
The Tennessean first requested the names of the consultants, documents related to the procurement process, and information about the experts and advisors provided to the steering committee members on January 6.
A department spokesperson said on Monday it was a “long process” to extract the information and as of Tuesday afternoon it had not yet provided the materials or commented on the need for outside experts. .
On Tuesday evening, the state released a draft framework for the new funding formula and extended the public comment period until Jan. 18 as it seeks additional comments.
On Wednesday, after this article was published, spokesperson Brian Blackley provided a copy of the consultancy contract awarded to Bellweather Education Partners and signed on January 4.
Information on the other two markets is not available.
“Two of those contracts are still ongoing, and one was executed this week,” Blackley said in an email. “The department cannot comment or provide information on purchases that are not yet fully executed and completed.”
The work of national experts has already contributed to the review of the formula through its subcommittee process, Blackley added, and could contribute to the legislative process in the future.
Following: Tennessee Releases Draft Framework of New School Funding Formula, Seeks More Comments
National groups informing the state’s school funding review process
But Schwinn told members of the steering committee appointed to lead the review process that a group of national education groups including Bellweather Education Partners, the Bush Institute, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Edunomics Lab of the Georgetown University, Excel in Ed, and the Southern Regional Education Board are working with the department and legislators to create a student-weighted funding formula.
Previously: Political battle lines emerge as Tennessee begins overhaul of K-12 school funding formula
At a December 15 steering committee meeting, Schwinn said the expert panel serves as an unofficial subcommittee, in addition to the 18 subcommittees formed as part of the review process.
“We have a national expert group that is not part of the procurement process…lots of people who will help you make sure you have accurate information and who will also answer any questions you may have and give advice as well about politics in particular,” Schwinn said. said in a recording of the Dec. 15 virtual meeting.
“This national expert panel is sort of a subcommittee,” Schwinn added.
But the ministry did not provide more information about this group or other members of it.
Wednesday. Blackley, the department spokesperson, said in an email that national experts are available to contribute to the legislative process if lawmakers receive a formal proposal.
“There have been no meetings to date with national experts on this, the requested resources are already publicly released and there is no ‘sub-committee’ of national experts,” he said. he stated by e-mail.
Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, mentioned at the December 15 steering committee meeting that he spoke with representatives from the Edunomics lab in Georgetown about the state funding review process.
“Maybe they’re one of the bands you’re talking about, but I think it might be helpful for the members if they had some of these sources of people who do this kind of work at their fingertips so that “They can get an independent perspective from the people who do this work,” Watson said.
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Schwinn said the department recruited experts “to ensure [lawmakers] had access to it,” but that the ministry did not dictate the answers or information these experts would provide.
Marguerite Roza, director of the Edunomics lab and research professor at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, confirmed that the research center spoke with Schwinn and gave a presentation on school finances to members of the Tennessee School Board at the Tennessee School Board Association Leadership Conference and Annual Meeting. Congress in November.
Roza said the lab responded to one of the state’s requests for applications to provide training for school leaders in the coming months.
Who are the “national experts” involved in Tennessee’s funding review?
The Edunomics Lab is an academic research center “dedicated to exploring and modeling complex education funding decisions to inform education policy and practice,” according to its website. .
The lab tracks school financial trends, studies the impact of allocation decisions, and even provides decision makers with a “State Formula Decision Tree” that offers different scenarios or anticipated outcomes of funding choices.
“We do this with many states. … We’re an academic research center that focuses on school funding policies, so we know a lot about funding,” Roza said. “Since we’re a research center, we’re not lobbyists and don’t have any kind of advocacy program on this.”
Bellweather Education Partners is a national nonprofit organization that develops education policy and has previously worked with the Tennessee Achievement School District, Tennessee Charter School Center, and Tennessee State Board of Education. The group also weighed in on Tennessee’s 2015 plan to comply with a new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act.
ExcelinEd, a pro-school choice organization, is hosting the National Education Summit and has helped advocate for millions of dollars for charter schools and school choice programs in 2020, including working with Lee in developing his college savings account program, which is now being challenged in court, according to ExcelinEd’s 2020 Annual Impact Report.
Josh Thomas, regional advocacy director for ExcelinEd, also serves on the department’s Parent Choice and Voice subcommittee.
Many other groups have been involved in the evolution of the funding review process and are represented on the various committees, including the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, known as SCORE, the Education Trust in Tennessee, Tennesseans for Student Success and TennesseeCAN, a pro-voucher organization. .
Meanwhile, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – a major supporter of both the Education Trust and SCORE – has also injected more than $525,000 into the state “to support the adoption of an equitable funding formula to to improve educational opportunities for all students in kindergarten through 12. Tennessee,” according to the foundation’s website.
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Meghan Mangrum covers education for the USA TODAY Network – Tennessee. Contact her at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.