Tennessee Valley School Systems threaten lawsuit over BEP - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Tennessee Valley School Systems threaten lawsuit over BEP

Posted: Updated:
Thursday night, the Hamilton County Board of Education took an 8 to 1 vote in favor of suing Tennessee over the state's BEP, or Basic Education Program.

The BEP is how the state formulates and apportions education funds to state public schools.  BEP has often drawn the ire of Tennessee's larger, metropolitan school systems like Hamilton, Shelby, Knox or Davidson counties.  But this time around, Hamilton has company from smaller systems such as Bradley, Polk, Marion, Grundy and Coffee counties, which claim the state is short-changing them, by underestimating the true cost of education.

The topic comes to full boil as the state's new education commissioner visits Chattanooga's "priority" schools.

As students in Mrs. Hawkins 4th grade class at Chattanooga's Woodmore Elementary go through their latest lesson.  They do so under the watchful eye of Candice McQueen, Tennessee's new Education Commissioner, who's very aware of the impending lawsuit being brought by at least six area school systems over perceived inequities to school funding via the BEP.   

"We have done some extraordinary work this year in giving 100-million dollars back from the governor's budget to the school districts to really compensate teachers better," said McQueen after her tour of Woodmore Elementary Friday afternoon.

But critics, which include the Hamilton County School Board, say the state is underestimating and portioning three quarters of a billion dollars annually that should be going to state school systems

"Right now, a lot of our schools in districts such as this require a lot of community support and teachers," said Hamilton County Board of Education's Karitsa Mosley, who represents District 5. "Faculty and staff are going beyond their means to provide them with things the state should be doing."

Tennessee State Senator Todd Gardenhire, who represents both Hamilton & Bradley Counties, says he believes school funding issues are often the case of misplaced priorities.  "The County Commission has the power today to fund the schools up to where they need to be, so it's really the county school systems responsibility for funding it, they don't need us, it would be nice if we could give them a check, but there's no money to do it."

Scott Bennett, the attorney who represents Hamilton County's Board of Education, says the lawsuit is being drafted and will be filed soon after a March 23rd meeting between Governor Haslam and school superintendents from Tennessee's four largest school systems and McQueen.

"The Governor and I are actually meeting with the directors of schools in those areas in about a week to have a discussion as to what funding has already occurred under the governor's last four years and what opportunities have for the BEP funding in the future," said McQueen.

Bennett says McMinn County may join the lawsuit next week.

Powered by Frankly