A five-year-old lawsuit against the state of Tennessee over school funding brought by the Hamilton County Board of Education was dismissed by Davidson County Chancery Court earlier this month. The Board voted unanimously to dismiss the case, based on advice from the board’s legal counsel and because of what they described as substantial increases in state funding in recent years and the work state legislators have done to improve the state’s school funding formula, known as the Basic Education Plan (BEP).
However, two of the state’s largest school districts, Metro Nashville Public Schools and Shelby County Schools, are still set to go to trial later this year in their own separate cases.
Hamilton County, along with six other school districts, had filed their lawsuit in March 2015, arguing the state wasn’t providing sufficient funding for schools. The suit questioned the adequacy of state allocations through the BEP. It charged that the state was significantly underestimating the cost of teacher salaries and other needs, thus shifting the burden to local districts and creating unequal opportunities statewide.
The remaining lawsuits each broadly claims that schools are not receiving the funding to which they are entitled under the BEP funding formula. Each lawsuit describes specific ways the lack of funding impacts the districts individually. The districts are arguing that the BEP allocates funds arbitrarily to districts without any research basis for needs like teacher salaries and technology, and support services such as guidance counselors, social workers, and nurses. This underfunding, they allege, results in students not receiving the level of education to which they are constitutionally guaranteed, causing their academic performance to suffer. Among other things, class size requirements have forced districts to hire more than 9,000 teachers beyond what the BEP provides to pay for their salaries, according to a statewide analysis presented by the Department of Education in December to the BEP Review Committee.