Dollars & Sense Learning Series

Help us improve equity in funding Tennessee schools

Dollars and Sense is a self-guided 7-part learning series designed to help Tennesseans understand how schools are funded in Tennessee, and what we can do to improve the adequacy and equity in our funding formula so that our schools and students have access to the resources that they need to succeed. We feature funding experts from Tennessee and across the country and curate readings for each session. Learn at your own pace and learn what should be included in our state’s funding formula so that students and equity remain at the center.  

Session 1 provides attendees with an introduction to school funding structures, including what goes in, what comes out, and why it matters. Additionally, you’ll learn how state education funding formulas compare across the country, and several ways to evaluate their adequacy and fairness. This session will lay a foundation for future Dollars and Sense sessions, ensuring advocates can examine the many dimensions of school funding in Tennessee.

Session 2 of Dollars and Sense will leave you with an understanding of the national and state actors, constituencies and policies at play in education finance. We discuss the role of different sectors, governmental agencies and litigation in the school funding landscape in Tennessee.

Session 3 offers a close examination of the Basic Education Program (BEP), including its history, structure, how it works in practice and its impact on key drivers like salaries and staffing, instructional programs and learning supports for students. We discuss how the BEP funds and impacts rural and urban districts, and the challenges local counties face in funding the remainder of district needs.

Session 4 reviews the latest research on the impact of school funding on achievement, student outcomes and economic mobility. We also take a look at the impact of COVID-19 and the recession on state and local budgets, and the potential for long-term effects.

Session 5 offers an analysis of possible solutions and alternatives to the BEP, which is a resource-based funding model. What alternatives exist? What is working in other states and what can we learn from them? We hear from experts on how we can cost out solutions, and discuss what it would take to fund our schools in an equitable and adequate manner.

Session 6 of 7 will provide attendees an opportunity to hear from advocates and leaders in other states about their ability to change their funding formula. We’ll discuss what worked, what failed, and how public will was changed in order to achieve change. We’ll also examine the impact of litigation and court-ordered funding reform on state funding formulas.

  • Chris Candelaria, Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Education, Peabody College of Vanderbilt University
  • Subira Gordon, Executive Director, ConnCan
  • Sanford Johnson, TeachPlus, Mississippi
  • Riley Kitts, Colorado Children’s Campaign, Colorado
  • Gini Pupo-Walker, State Director, The Education Trust in Tennessee
  • Zahava Stadler, Special Assistant for State Funding and Policy, The Education Trust
Join us to hear from Rally, a communications firm that will help us examine national and statewide media coverage of school funding, how the issue is being framed and what topics continue to emerge. They will also offer some do’s and don’ts when talking about school funding, and how to make your case to a variety of audiences. We also close out our Dollars and Sense series with a discussion of key advocacy strategies and actions we can take together to advance school funding reform in Tennessee.