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Tennessee Districts Sue State for More Education Funding

Seven rural and urban school districts in Tennessee have filed a lawsuit alleging that the state has chronically underfunded public schools and has created a system of "substantially unequal educational opportunities," according to a recent article by Chalkbeat Tennessee.

The lawsuit says that the state's funding formula shortchanges schools by about $134 million each year and does not correctly estimate the cost that districts incur for teachers' salaries. The suit also claims that local schools and districts are overly burdened with the cost of education, which leads to inequities across the state.

"The General Assembly has been aware of its obligation to fund a system of free public education across the state for more than 20 years and yet has been deliberately indifferent to its constitutional duty," the districts claim in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit is the latest in a long string of litigation that has been initiated by rural districts to address chronic underfunding. In South Carolina last year, the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of 30 rural districts that alleged the state's funding formula was unfair. In Mississippi, more than 20 urban and rural school districts across the state have joined a lawsuit asking that the state pay schools funds that are owed from years of underfunding. In December, a New Jersey Superior Court judge ruled against 16 rural districts that filed a lawsuit claiming that underfunding has stunted the growth of preschool programs and forced schools to cut extracurricular programs and art classes.  

Nearly 40 percent of students in Tennessee attend rural schools, according to a recent report by The Rural School and Community Trust. The state has one of the lowest rural teacher salaries and one of the lowest rural per pupil spending. Students in Tennessee's rural schools post some of the lowest test scores on national standardized tests compared to their rural peers in other states.

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