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Ragsdale, Woodson press state for school bucks


Knox County school children are not receiving their fair share of the money pie, say local officials, and they want something done about it.

The issue of tax dollars has 6th District Sen. Jamie Woodson, Knox County Mayor Michael Ragsdale, members of the Knox County Board of Education and the schools system upset here in Knox County.

Officials said they believe local children are being short-sheeted when it comes to receiving the revenue Knox County deserves. They want to see that inequity corrected by changes in the Basic Education Program.

But Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen has no plans to change the funding formula, said Rachel Woods, director of communications for the state department of education.

“He’s included twenty million new dollars that will be split among the districts for at-risk students and English Language Learners,” she said. At-risk students are those who receive free and reduced-price lunches.

“Children in East Tennessee have just as much right to fairness as children in other parts of the state,” Woodson said. Legislators are obligated to distribute resources fairly and the BEP needs to be overhauled for that to happen.

Woodson said she wants to see the model for disbursements be changed from a 95 county model to one based on the 136 school systems.

Another problematic area of the BEP funding formula is cost differentials among counties, since the cost of doing business varies from county to county.

“The current ability we have to factor that is really skewed,” she said.

Ragsdale said Knox County gives a lot of money to the state, but doesn’t receive much back.

“There are one hundred thirty-five public school systems in this state. Knox County ranks second among the one hundred thirty-five in terms of local contributions to education,” he said. “We rank second to last in the share we receive back.” Knox County children receive $800 less per child than the state average, he added.

“If we could just get to the state average, we’d have forty million more dollars.”

Children in Williamson County, “the twelfth wealthiest county in the country,” according to Ragsdale, receive $400 more per pupil than kids in Knox County.

The Knox County Board of Education is considering sending a letter to parents to begin a grassroots effort to correct the problem.

A draft of the letter at the Feb. 6 board of education meeting explained that Knox County is receiving $17.4 million less than it should for this school year, but that “for the first time since the B-E-P was passed, some legislators are showing an interest in addressing the flaws in the B-E-P funding formula.”

Originally, the BEP came into being because a school system in a small Tennessee county sued the state, asking for more equitable funding for a few rural communities that couldn’t support quality schools, Ragsdale said, adding that the BEP currently goes beyond the original intent and “creates an injustice for many of our state’s young people.

“Simply put, we need more revenue generated in Knox County to be returned to Knox County,” Ragsdale said.

“We are not attempting to take anyone else’s money away or to harm children in poor communities. We are simply asking for more of our own money back.

“We are committed to moving our schools forward with or without the state’s help,” he added. “Please understand that if we received just the state average for education, our budget challenges would be completely resolved and we could implement programs and salary increases that our children need and our teachers deserve.”

 

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