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BC schools rank last in per pupil spending

By DAWN HANKINS - dhankins@t-g.com
Posted 7/23/22

During Tuesday night’s school board meeting, John Boutwell presented per pupil spending numbers for Bedford County. Sadly, those numbers haven’t increased by much since he gave a similar …

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BC schools rank last in per pupil spending

During Tuesday night’s school board meeting, John Boutwell presented per pupil spending numbers for Bedford County. Sadly, those numbers haven’t increased by much since he gave a similar presentation 2 years ago.
Simply put, Bedford County ranks close to last in per pupil spending when compared to other surrounding counties within the South Central District.
He shared the presentation he was giving the board with the T-G.
Boutwell has been a school board member since 2010. He’s currently running for a Bedford County Commission seat, unopposed, as a Republican candidate. He hopes his many years in business and on the school board will assist in many areas of county growth, particularly regarding education.
“We need a voice for education on the commission. We need somebody to be able to present education’s case to citizens . . . make a difference.”
Boutwell said with a smile if he’s elected to the Commission on Aug. 4, he will be resigning as a school board member. He said he’s running unopposed for District 8, which stretches from Union Street to the airport area off Highway 231 North. Of course, there is always the possibility of a write-in candidate vying for that district seat.
Working at this level in local government will be a new experience for Boutwell, though he did do some work for Bedford County Mayor Chad Graham a couple of years ago in human resources. Boutwell was a political science major at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro.
“I just want young people who go to school here to have a decent opportunity for their future . . . the opportunities I had all those years ago. I think the biggest problem is that we haven’t had a voice . . . pointing out the issues.”
Per pupil spending
Since he’s been on the school board, he’s kept a significant spread sheet each year while going over the fiscal year budget. “I would compare it to the previous year, to see if things were rocking along to previous periods. Then if something were a bit different, I’d raise a question.”
As time went on, Boutwell said he began to notice that Bedford County’s contribution toward per pupil spending was not increasing. The state’s portion, he added, was growing.
“About 2 or 3 years ago, I looked at it . . . adjust for inflation, we’re giving less now, than we were 10 years ago.”
The former human resources manager and consultant doesn’t just come up with the numbers off the top of his head, but uses data from the State. He admits he’s a stats man; he looks up and compares to other surrounding counties to get his results.
He also went to the U.S. Bureau of Labor for inflation data. He researched the numbers regarding this county’s contribution, and worth, today.
“In other words, our contribution, in 2023, is going to be $1,475. If you put that back into 2009 dollars, that’s $1,106. Actually, we gave $1,267 in 2009, which means on an inflation adjusted basis, we’re 160 dollars less than we were in 2009, on per pupil expenditures. The state’s portion is almost 500 dollars more.”
So in the last 12 years, county funding per student has gone backward, not forward, according to Boutwell. That is simply, what the county is funding toward educating each of the 8,700 plus students here.
He refers to an article which ran in 2018, in the Jackson Sun. The Madison County School System was at odds over its per pupil spending. A professor there wrote an article in the paper, which Boutwell found interesting. He uses it now in his presentations.
Boutwell said the writer showed the difference between per pupil spending and a county’s “capacity.” It was then, Boutwell said, he learned about that word called “capacity” in regards to per pupil spending.
“The state has come up with [what] your county has a capacity to fund schooling.”
He said he learned from the West Tennessee newspaper article that Bedford County was 95th out of all counties. “We were dead last in our local per pupil funding when compared to our ability [capacity] to fund schools.”
Those numbers pointed to a $3.8 million deficit in per pupil spending in fiscal year 2017, he said.
Boutwell said he also became more familiar with the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) while studying per pupil spending. This is an intergovernmental body of state and local governments in the state that has the purpose of providing a forum for discussion and resolution of intergovernmental problems and providing research support to improve the overall quality of government in that state.
“They determine what a county’s ability to pay per schools is, based on taxable income, property value . . . and all those kinds of things.”
Within the realm of some lawsuits, Basic Education Program (BEP) came into existence as a way to determine how the state decides what each county has coming in the way of funding. A poorer county, therefore, generally will receive more state funding, he advised.
So TACIR bases it funding off a county’s per capita or ability to pay. If per capita is greater, for example like that in Williamson County, percentage wise, there will be less funding. There’s an equalization, he discovered.
So how does Bedford County fair per capita? “TACIR tells us that our rank is 55th out of 95 counties. Roughly, we’re sort of in the middle. They’re saying that Bedford County has capacity of [spending] $2,247 per pupil.”
He said this is based on 2020 “capacity.” BEP numbers are not available yet for 2022.
In 2020, there were 142 school districts in Tennessee, though there was one system in which numbers were not available. Based on those 141 school districts, Bedford County ranks in the bottom 2 percent when it comes to per pupil spending. Union and Gibson County school districts were lower, the school board member said.
“Our contribution [here] toward per pupil spending is 18.23 percent. So we’re in the bottom three. But then if you take in the account capacity . . . we find that we are dead last in the state.”
South Central Core District
To equally compare Bedford County, when it comes to funding, the state generally groups similar counties, regarding incomes, etc. “So when I compare all of those counties, I find that we’re dead last among the South Central core district,” Boutwell advised. “What’s interesting is that almost all the counties give more than what the state says their capacity is.”
He uses Perry County as an example, noting the county capacity says it can give $2,164 and yet the county funds its system $2,398 per pupil. Franklin County’s capacity is at $2,630, but they give $3,261 per student.
As for Bedford County, the state estimates the capacity at $2,037 and we give $1,506. So if you take that per pupil difference and multiply , Boutwell said this county has a short fall of $4.6 million―dollars not being spent on students.
The former school board chair said there’s a capacity here in Bedford County to spend $4.6 million more on local students’ educations. He finds local numbers, based on capacity, troubling.
Then he questions what the school system should be spending more dollars on. He notes facility needs do not figure into these calculations.
Teacher salaries
While teacher pay was on average pretty good in 2020, Boutwell said he’s discovered that it is quite possibly the funding gap impacted the number of teachers hired.
He discovered that in 2010, the ratio was 15.1 classroom teachers per student here. That ranked Bedford County 104th out of the other 141 school districts.
In 2020, there were 16.6 classroom teachers per student in Bedford County. So the ranking was then 124th out of 141 school districts.
“We don’t have enough money to hire more.”
He compared those numbers to other South Central District systems. The average, excluding Bedford County, is 14.92 classroom teachers per student. He did a weighted average and it was 15.21.
Bottom line, he discovered Bedford County has 59 less classroom teachers, than other systems in the South Central District. A weighted average shows Bedford County still has 48 less teachers than systems like Giles and Marshall Counties.
He said he also took a hard look at all schools in Bedford County, based on per pupil spending. He found that South Side Elementary spends about $10,000 per student, but only Harris Middle and at Shelbyville Central spend only about $7,200 per student. Boutwell reminds there are certain requirements coming from the federal government for elementary education, that is, what each school is required to spend per student.
Looking toward the future
Boutwell said according to statistics from the Sycamore Institute (non- profit research group used by state) per pupil spending in Bedford County in 2024 will be $9,468 thanks to increased spending by the State. He mentions that will be a “substantial” increase over 2022.
All these newly expected numbers come about as a result of TISA or Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement formula, which was enacted through the state legislature and Gov. Bill Lee earlier this year. Boutwell mentioned that what’s enacted and the true percentages of what is finally funded to Bedford County is yet to be released.
“This is the best guess at this point. With the State giving a larger piece of the pie, our local funding will be about 16 percent, which is 2 percent less than it is now. TISA will not require our local funding to increase.”


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