“The standards have changed. People have not voted for the funding to make sure that the resources that are needed to teach those standards are always a priority and the funding isn’t there for them. I think sometimes that people just don’t understand the impact that education has on the economic engine that is any community. We’re here to educate the future workforce.”

Tennessee’s current primary source of state funding for K-12 education funding is the Basic Education Program (BEP), created in 1992. That changes for the 2018-19 school year, when a new student-based funding system goes into effect. Every school will receive $3,400 per student.

The BEP is a complex formula made up of 45 individually calculated components in four main categories. Districts have considerable flexibility on how to spend their BEP money. All components are driven by student enrollment – generally the more students in a district, the more BEP money the district receives.

The current program distributes more than $4.5 billion to public school districts and consists of two parts: a state share and a required local match contributed by local school districts. State and local shares are set based on each county’s fiscal capacity or ability to raise local revenue. Counties with higher fiscal capacities receive less state funding and must contribute more local matching dollars than counties with less ability to raise local revenue.

Under the new system, additional money will then be allocated depending on factors determined by each district, such as Shelby County Schools recently determining that money will go to first-time readers, students with disabilities, students who score exceptionally high or low on state tests, and students who often move from one home to another.

Emphasis only early literacy is the most common characteristic cited by districts across the nation who use this model. Shelby County Schools will add $1,020 for each student in kindergarten through second grade, and $680 for third- through fifth-graders. The weight is on younger students because the district is struggling to boost its reading levels. During the 2016-17 school year, just 21 percent of students in third grade were considered by the state to be reading on grade level, well below the district’s goal of 90 percent by 2025.

According to Chalkbeat, allowing principals to make their own decisions about what kinds of jobs are needed and what materials their schools need is at the heart of the new funding model. To prepare for the upcoming change, the district’s national consultant, Education Resource Strategies, trained teams at six Memphis schools over the past two years.

The state’s new spending plan includes increases to teacher pay and school security allotments.