Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

County schools losing $500,000 in state funds

After learning the Washington County school system will lose nearly $500,000 in state funding this upcoming school year, area leaders are looking for an explanation.
The loss comes in the form of Basic Education Program, or BEP, funding.
The BEP is the funding formula through which state education dollars are generated and distributed to Tennessee schools.The funds generated by the BEP are what the state has defined as sufficient to provide a basic level of education for Tennessee students. This basic level of funding includes both a state share of the BEP and a local share of the BEP.
“It is complicated and it can be confusing,” said Washington County Director of Schools Ron Dykes of the formula used to calculate state funding. “They take a county’s tax base, combine it with the amount of debt owed, combine that with individual wealth, and then they come up with a magical formula of a county’s wealth.”
According to State Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough), two major factors played into the loss of funding for Washington County.
“First is average daily attendance. Ours is flat. We are not growing in numbers,” Hill said. “The second is that property valuations are really high because of commercial property in Johnson City. It kind of skews our data.
“Both of these things affect the ‘ability to pay’ part of the BEP formula. It’s costing us.”
In light of the news, members of the Washington County Commission’s Joint Education Committee asked Dykes to seek further explanation of the funding formula from the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations.
“I’ve contacted the State of Tennessee Department of Education and I’ve spoken with Deputy Commissioner Steven Smith who is working with State Rep. Dale Ford (R-Johnson City),” Dykes said. “I’ve asked them to send a representative from the state to meet with the Washington County School Board and the Washington County Commission in a joint meeting to explain the funding mechanism.”
The meeting, which Dykes said is expected to take place some time next week, “will be extremely important in that the state school representatives can explain in layman’s terms how the funding actually occurs.”
Last year Washington County was the 11th wealthiest county in Tennessee according to the TACIR report generated by the Department of Intergovernmental Relations.
“They (TACIR) then match the results of the formula with all the other counties and they expect your financial solvency to fund your own educational system proportionately according to everyone else,” Dykes said.
The time is now, Dykes said, for Washington County to come up to state funding standards.
“Last year Washington County was funding its schools at $866 per pupil less than the Tennessee average,” Dykes said. “This year, they’re $986 below the average.”
According to the Tennessee Department of Education, the state average expenditure per pupil in 2011 was $9,084. Washington County spent $8,098 on each of its students.
“We’re spending less this year than in the years previously, and now the state is indicating it is a local issue,” Dykes said. “This isn’t anything new. We’ve been told this for about the past three years.”
While the state continues to cut funding to the school system, Dykes said it is on local government to make monetary improvements.
“Every year, the auditors have had us set aside money from our operations budget to make up the difference. And every year they have told us that Washington County is not funding its schools according to its means,” Dykes said.
“What we have here is the failure of the county government to maintain maintenance of effort, or in other words, to fully fund their share of the school system locally.”
According to Hill, the state kicks in a total of about $30 million of the Washington County school system’s $60 million annual budget. The remainder is funded locally.