April 22, 2022 8:00am

Statehouse too often in the schoolhouse

Legislators changing school funding, boundaries, class topics

Photo of David Waters
Memphis, TN Correspondent

Public education is a hot topic in the General Assembly this year. Legislators are considering a wide range of bills that would impact local schools, students, teachers and taxpayers.

But those legislative proposals are generally getting a cold reception from Memphis Power Poll members.

A majority of Power Poll respondents are skeptical or suspicious of Gov. Bill Lee's effort to develop a new state funding formula for K-12 public schools.

Per Lee's request, the Tennessee Investment in School Excellence (TISA) would replace the 30-year-old Basic Education Program (BEP). What's your general outlook on this effort?

The overhaul has cleared several House and Senate committees, and seems likely to be approved by the General Assembly's Republican supermajority.

But legislators on both sides of the aisle have raise concerns about the overhaul's potential impact on students with disabilities, local taxpayers, and Lee's efforts to let parents use vouchers for private schools.

Thirty-six percent of Power Poll respondents said they were hopeful that a new formula would more fairly distribute state funds to school districts.

But 38 percent said they were suspicious that the new "student-centered' formula would make it easier for students to take their state funding to charter schools and, eventually, to private schools.

And another 12 percent were skeptical about the overhaul, and think it would make more sense to revise, improve, and fully fund the existing formula.

Fourteen percent of respondents had no opinion.

Power Poll members were nearly evenly divided on legislation that would require Memphis-Shelby County Schools to transfer three of its schools to Germantown Municipal Schools.

The so-called 3G schools -- Germantown Elementary, Middle and High schools -- are within the Germantown City limits.

They have been operated by MSCS since 2014, when Germantown voluntarily left the county system and formed its own school district.

Forty-two percent of respondents agreed that Germantown taxpayers are entitled to own and run those schools.

But 36 percent disagreed, and another 15 percent thought the matter should be decided by the courts, not the legislature,

Eight percent didn't know or care.

Meanwhile, Power Poll respondents generally do not support the legislature's attempts to define or restrict what teachers should and should not teach.

Legislators passed a bill that would require middle schools to teach Black history and culture and "the contribution of black people to the history and development of this country and of the world.”

Lawmakers also passed a bill that would require public school students to learn the “virtues of capitalism and the constitutional republic form of government in the United States and Tennessee, as compared to other political and economic systems such as communism and socialism.”

A whopping 82 percent of Power Poll respondents think the legislature is going too far, but for different reasons.

Forty-six percent say state legislators should leave the education of school children to professional educators and parents.

Another 36 percent say legislators are just trying to score political points with their supporters in an election year.

Only 16 percent agree with the legislation, saying state lawmakers have a responsibility to oversee and ensure what public school students are learning in the classroom.

Two percent have no opinion.

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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