Comptroller puts TN school funding calculator online

News release from state Comptroller’s office

Tennessee’s K-12 public schools depend on the state’s Basic Education Program (BEP) formula to distribute nearly $4.4 billion in state funding. For years the BEP has been calculated by the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) without any way to verify the results. Now, the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office has created a method to independently calculate and verify the BEP.

The Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability has reconstructed the entire BEP calculation from scratch using input data for student enrollment, unit costs, and other factors.

The Comptroller is also bringing transparency to the BEP formula by making its BEP Calculator publicly available to all Tennesseans. Details and dollar amounts for every school district in Tennessee can now be downloaded from the Comptroller’s website. Users can even create their own scenarios using different inputs – teacher salaries, insurance premiums, etc. – to see how changes impact BEP allocations.

The Comptroller has also created an interactive map where you can easily view of snapshot of essential BEP facts and figures for each of Tennessee’s 141 school districts.

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Study finds business tax credit costs TN $1.2M per job

An independent firm has found that Tennessee taxpayers forgo $1.2 million each year to subsidize a single job through the state’s largest business tax break program, reports The Tennessean.

Chicago-based consulting firm Anderson Economic Group was retained to do a study of business tax credits because of a provision inserted into legislation enacted in 2015. The newspaper obtained a copy of the report, which says Tennessee loses $142 million per year in revenue because of tax credits.

Businesses that received the Industrial Machinery Tax Credit actually hired fewer people, on average, than their peers in the few years after taking the credit, the consultants found. When taking into account a ripple effect – how much the additional spending affected other parts of the economy – the annual impact came out to an additional 55 jobs per year.

That particular credit cost the state an average of $66.7 million per year from 2011 through 2014, or $1.2 million per job.

“The results show that, on average, the industrial machinery credit does not have a significant effect on employment,” the authors wrote in the report “The Economic Impact of Business Tax Credits in Tennessee.”

One explanation for the meager job growth could be that companies are automating job functions and buying expensive equipment that doesn’t require many workers to operate.

“At first, that sounds like a really bad thing,” said Fox from the University of Tennessee. “Having said that, it’s important to recognize that appropriate investment in Tennessee companies is key to Tennessee’s future.”

…Besides employment, the credit generates an annual average of $7.4 million in additional economic activity and $2 million of worker earnings, the consultants found.

…The second-largest business tax break in Tennessee is the Jobs Tax Credit, which cost the state an average of $52.1 million annually from 2011 to 2014. It gives companies a credit of $4,500 per job, with enhancements depending on how much a company invests in the state and where it locates.

Consultants found the jobs credit had a broader economic impact. When taking into account the ripple effect, the jobs credit generated an average of 600 jobs per year, according to the report. That equates to about $87,000 per job.

Haslam budget gives pay raises to teachers, state employees; spends $655 million on building construction & maintenance

Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposes spending $37 billion in the 2017-18 fiscal year, which is about 4.8 percent more than in the current fiscal year. The money includes about $18 billion in federal funds.

Here are some of the highlights:

–There’s new money (about $100 million) to cover a 4 percent pay raise for K-12 public school teachers, if spread across the board to all – though school systems can distribute the funds so some get bigger pay raises than others.  Schools would also get an extra $22 million for English language learning programs.

–There’s funding for all state employees (including those in higher education) to get a 3 percent pay raises if handled across the board plus $23 million for “market adjustment” pay raises in some job categories.

–There is $655 million for building construction and maintenance across state government and higher education.

–As announced before, $279 million extra would be spent on highway construction and maintenance with money generated from an increase in gasoline and diesel fuel taxes. Another $135 million from revenue overcollections would go to road construction on a one-time basis as a “payback” of money taken from the road fund in previous years.

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Haslam proposes expanded free tuition plan, $37B budget in ‘State of the State’ speech

(Note: Full text of the governor’s speech is HERE.)

News release from the governor’s office

NASHVILLE – In his seventh State of the State address to the General Assembly, Gov. Bill Haslam introduced his proposal to make Tennessee the first state in the nation to offer all Tennessee adults without a degree access to community college tuition-free – and at no cost to taxpayers.

If the Tennessee Reconnect Act is approved, Tennessee would become the first state in the nation to offer all citizens – both high school students and adults – the chance to earn a post-secondary degree or certificate free of tuition and fees.

“Just as we did with Tennessee Promise, we’re making a clear statement to families: wherever you might fall on life’s path, education beyond high school is critical to the Tennessee we can be,” Haslam said. “At the end of the day, there is no higher potential for providing more opportunity for our citizens than increasing access to high quality education. And the point is, we’re doing it while maintaining discipline and responsibility to the taxpayer – keeping taxes and debt low and saving for when the economy ultimately slows.”

Launched in 2013, the Drive to 55 is the governor’s effort to increase the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree or certificate to 55 percent by 2025. Currently, Tennessee needs 871,000 post-secondary degrees or certificates to reach 55 percent, but mathematically there’s no way to reach that goal by only serving high school students. There are 900,000 adults in Tennessee that have some college but no degree.

Tennessee adults without a certificate can already attend Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs) tuition-free under the Reconnect program, and the governor’s Tennessee Reconnect Act would add community colleges into the program. Click here for information on the Reconnect proposal. (And there’s an ‘infographic’ HERE.)

The governor also unveiled tonight the Tennessee STRONG (Support, Training and Renewing Opportunities for National Guardsmen) Act, establishing a four-year pilot program for eligible members of the Tennessee National Guard to receive a last-dollar tuition reimbursement toward a first-time bachelor’s degree.

The Reconnect and STRONG acts are the final two pieces of NextTennessee, Haslam’s 2017 legislative agenda aimed at building and sustaining economic growth and the state’s competitiveness for the next generation of Tennesseans.

The governor also released his Fiscal Year 2017-2018 budget proposal. The $37 billion proposal makes significant investments in teachers, K-12 schools, higher education, state employees, the state’s Rainy Day Fund and the tax cuts included in the governor’s IMPROVE Act. For a second year in a row, and the second year in Tennessee recorded history, the state budget does not take on any new debt.

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State revenue was $150M over estimates in December

News release from Department of Finance and Administration

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee revenues for December exceeded the same month one year ago.  Finance and Administration Commissioner Larry Martin reported today that state revenues for December were $1.2 billion, which is a growth of 11.33% and $125.5 million more than December 2015.

“Total revenues in December were higher than expected due to collections in the sales and corporate tax categories. Recorded revenues in the corporate category for December include a substantial one-time payment,” Martin said. “December sales tax revenues reflect retail activity that occurred in November including ‘Black Friday’ and after-Thanksgiving sales. January’s report will capture consumer spending for the Christmas holiday season. Continue reading

McNally names Watson chair of Senate Finance Committee; Tracy as speaker pro tem; Bailey as Transportation chair

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally has appointed Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee – the position McNally held before being elected speaker of the Senate on Tuesday. Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, will, in turn, replace Watson as Senate speaker pro tempore — and Sen. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta, will succeed Tracy as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

Otherwise, committee chairs remain the same for the 110th General Assembly as they were for the 109th General Assembly when Ron Ramsey did the appointing as speaker.

A chart (pdf) listing Senate committee assignments is available by clicking on this link: senatecommittees110tga

Here’s McNally’s press release on the appointments:

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TN education graded C- overall; gets an F in funding

Tennessee doesn’t spend enough on public schools, but it distributes what it does spend relatively fairly, according to a new national report.

As further summarized by Chalkbeat Tennessee:

The state earned a C-minus overall in public education on Education Week’s annual Quality Counts report, ranking 36th of the 50 states and Washington, D.C. The overall grade takes into account finance, performance and “chance for success,” a category representing the role that education plays in outcomes from early education to adulthood.

Tennessee’s lowest grade was in spending: an F and a national ranking of 46th. However, the state received a B-plus and ranked No. 5 for equity in distributing funding across districts. The finance grade was based on federal data from 2014.

The state’s highest grade was in the category of “chance for success,” scoring a 73.7, or a C.

The report, released last week, comes as Gov. Bill Haslam prepares to present his annual budget for 2017-18 following several years of spending increases for K-12 education. He hinted after a budget hearing in November that he’ll propose more increases for teacher pay, but nothing drastic.

Note: The Education Week summary for Tennessee is HERE.

Black named interim House Budget Committee chair

House Republicans have named Rep. Diane Black to be interim chairman of the Budget Committee, in a move that Politico reports is aimed at keeping the GOP agenda moving swiftly while current Chairman Tom Price focuses on his nomination to be President-elect Donald Trump’s HHS secretary.

House Speaker Paul Ryan offered the proposal at a House GOP conference meeting Monday night, which he said would allow the Budget Committee to get up and running as quickly as possible, while giving Price the ability to fully prepare for a confirmation gantlet in the Senate, according to Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong.

Upon Price’s confirmation, the Republican Steering Committee would select a permanent chairman. Black, a Tennessee Republican, would seem to have the inside track for the job, though Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.), the vice chairman, is also vying for the post.

The Budget chairman will play a crucial role for the GOP in the coming months, helping to steer controversial efforts to repeal Obamacare and potentially approve a massive tax reform package. That’s because Republicans are planning to use a powerful procedural tool known as budget reconciliation to bypass the Senate’s typical 60-vote threshold and jam through legislation on party-line votes.


Legislator seeks state money for ‘Monkey Trial’ courthouse repair

State Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton, says he’s seeking state funds for repair of the Rhea County Courthouse, where the “Scopes Money Trial” played out in 1925, and thinks Gov. Bill Haslam will include the money in his budget for the coming year, reports the Times-Free Press.


“We’ve got to start from the top and work our way down,” Travis said of the estimated $200,000 in work needed to replace what is believed to be the original slate roof from 1891.

The roof must be leak proof before the rest of the building is protected from the elements, he said.

Travis said the project is as important to Tennessee and U.S. history as it is to the history of Dayton and Rhea counties.

From July 10 to July 21, 1925, the Rhea County Courthouse was the stage for the famous Scopes Evolution Trial, in which John Thomas Scopes, a Dayton high school teacher, was tried for teaching that human beings evolved from a “lower order of animals,” according to the historical account by the Scopes Trial Festival.

Scopes was convicted and fined $100, but on appeal the decision was reversed by the Tennessee Supreme Court in 1927. The court case, commonly referred to as the “Scopes Monkey Trial,” raised debate on issues such as separation of church and state, academic freedom and the relationship between science and religion.

In 1977, the National Park Service named the courthouse a National Historic Landmark, a somewhat rarer designation than being listed on the National Register of Historic Places, to which it was named in 1972.

Landmarks are “nationally significant historic places” that “possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States,” according to the National Park Service.

Black reported in line to become U.S. House Budget Committee chair

U.S. Rep. Diane Black is the leading candidate to chair the House Budget Committee, likely leap-frogging more senior panel members to become the first woman to head the high-profile panel, according to Politico (quoting “Republican leadership sources”).

The Tennessee Republican, entering her fourth term, would replace current Budget Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.), President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Health and Human Services Department. Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.), who is also vying for the post, would likely remain vice chairman, the sources said.

As chairwoman, Black would find herself at center stage next year for the GOP’s controversial efforts to repeal Obamacare and potentially approve a massive tax reform package. Republicans are planning to use a budget procedure known as reconciliation to bypass the Senate’s typical 60-vote threshold and jam through GOP bills on a party-line vote.

Republicans will begin that process as early as next week, when they return to Capitol Hill and begin the process of passing a fiscal 2017 budget with instructions to dismantle President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.

It is unclear when Price will vacate the position. Senate confirmation hearings for Price have not yet been scheduled.

The Republican Steering Committee, which votes on chairmanships, is expected to schedule a vote for the Budget Committee position as soon as Price resigns from Congress. Price could, theoretically, step down from his current chairmanship position before he is confirmed as HHS secretary, triggering the budget committee vote for his replacement.

…Black’s office declined to comment. A spokesman for Rokita said the GOP lawmaker would back Black, “his friend,” for the post.

Note: Black,66, is reportedly considering a run for governor in 2018. Her elevation to budget chair, presumably, might make the option of staying in Congress more appealing.

UPDATE/NOTE: The Tennessean reported Friday finding “a source with knowledge of the talks” who also says Black is the leading candidate for the chairmanship. Further:

If Black were to elevate to that role, Tennessee’s delegation would further boost its clout in Washington. Sen. Bob Corker chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Sen. Lamar Alexander chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; and Rep. Phil Roe now chairs the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, having been appointed earlier this month.

…Some Republican candidates who were once tepid about entering the (2018 gubernatorial) fray could suddenly become rejuvenated about their effort to vie for the party’s nomination if they believe Black’s ascension would eliminate her from the race.

“This will not affect her decision to run for governor,” another source close to Black told The Tennessean on Friday.


Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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