Tennessee's top education official wants a more uniform structure to decide how state education dollars are divided up among public school districts — but what that would look like is still unclear.
Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said it won't be until the next meeting of Gov. Bill Haslam's Basic Education Program Task Force this summer when alternative education funding plans would be discussed.
But at the task force's second meeting on Wednesday, Huffman, who chairs the panel, said he doesn't support the fact that the current system relies on two separate models to dictate funding levels for districts.
The Basic Education Program, last revised in 2007, considers a county's ability to to cover funds for public schools.
One way is through a county-level model created in the early 1990s by the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations that estimates the per-pupil amount that each county can raise for public education based on several factors. These include income, ability to pay and tax burden on residents.
A newer model, created by economists at the University of Tennessee, takes into account a county's property and sales tax bases and ability to produce revenue.
"This didn't leave me with a particular direction on where we should wind up," Huffman said after a two-hour meeting. "But it doesn't make sense to have two formulas that have very different starting philosophical premises, and to just say, 'We'll do 50 percent on one and 50 percent on the other.'"
He said options could include a new formula altogether or one of the two existing funding models.
Haslam has appointed the 10-member task force to review and make recommendation on the state's education formula over the coming year.
Tennessee's four largest school systems have called for the state to fully fund education under the 2007-updated BEP 2.0, which is aligned with the UT model.
Huffman and Haslam's Chief of State Mark Cate, however, stressed Wednesday that the mission of the panel isn't to see how big the pie can get but to decide how to best divide the pie.
Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson said he believes the state is currently funding public schools above levels required in the state constitution.