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Nashville Joins Legal Battle to Change Tennessee's School Funding Formula

A contentious year-old legal battle over Tennessee's school funding formula just heated up a little more this week when Nashville's school board decided Tuesday night to sue the state. 

Nashville joins Chattanooga, Memphis, and a handful of suburban districts that have filed lawsuits arguing that the state's funding formula leaves local government agencies shouldering too much of the state's skyrocketing education costs.  

Nashville board members voted this week to sue the state over the costs to educate Englishl-language learners, who comprise almost 43 percent of its student body. Other districts' lawsuits are much broader and focus on whether the state or local districts should pay, among other things, the majority of teachers' salaries and school wraparound social services. 

"The idea that these schools, which literally sit in the shadows of the state capital, are intentionally getting short shrift by the state of Tennessee is frankly maddening to me," board member Will Pinkston said during the meeting. "Local taxpayers are doing their part." 

Over the last decade, Tennessee lawmakers have ramped up the state's academic standards, teacher requirements, and accountability systems, allowing the state to take over its worst schools. 

Districts have scrambled to keep up, spending millions on new textbooks and curriculum, teachers, and social wraparound services. Meanwhile, the state has cut millions of dollars out of its education budget, forcing local governments (which control district budgets) to dramatically increase its education spending to cushion layoffs and cutbacks at schools. 

In response to the board's vote, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam touted his boosts to his education budget in recent years (he says he added $14 million to ELL spending this past year). 

"I think this was the exact wrong time to do something like this, to use money that could be used to go to schools—to go serve students—to be used to file a lawsuit," Haslam said, according to the Tennesseean.  


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