Friday, June 22, 2007

Educational inequity

In my radio podcast interview with Jason Mumpower, one of the things he discussed was the Basic Education Plan and how, in his estimation, the Governor was right to say that the BEP needed to be fixed-indeed that there needs to be such a thing as the Basic Education Plan in order to address educational inequities between wealthier and poorer school systems.

I certainly agree that the issue of educational inequities needs to be addressed, and I would also fully expect that Mumpower might be in favor of the BEP in general since areas in his district are slated to receive greater funds under the new plan. Support for the basic funding formula in the BEP is even higher in Knox County, where the legislative delegation supports the plan in general almost to a man or woman, with Senator Jamie Woodson really leading the pack on the plan's behalf. I would expect that to be the case for the same reason-Knox County is slated to receive a boatload of new money under the revised proposal. Hamilton County is also, and their delegation is really behind the BEP.

The new version of the Tennessee Basic Education Plan is supposedly designed to solve the problem of educational inequity, but I fear that the biggest inequity in our system will remain. The biggest reason that there is not great equity in Tennessee's educational system is not merely a matter of wealthy versus poor systems, but urban and suburban versus rural systems. The new BEP doesn't eliminate that divide, but may further widen it.

Here in Jefferson County, teacher pay is among the lowest in the State, and a day's worth of pay for a substitute teacher doesn't even cover the cost of the fingerprinting and background check. Despite lower per-pupil spending, many of Jefferson County High School's graduates go on to college either at Walters State, the University of Tennessee, Carson-Newman, or other nearby learning institutions. Jefferson County Schools miraculously finds a way to do more with less-though I am simply at a loss to explain how. Many other largely rural districts (especially in East Tennessee) such as Cocke County are not so fortunate.

While advocates of the present system point to the general increase in funding that will take place after this year due to the new tobacco tax hike, rural districts will see considerably less of that money-and when the money dries up, as it inevitably will under the hair-brained tax scheme that the Governor and General Assembly Democrats have foisted upon us, rural schools will be the first to get the shaft.

Until the funding disparity in rural schools is addressed, there will be no educational equity in Tennessee.



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