Why education advocates gave Tennessee school chief mayor a pie

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More school counselors, more school nurses, more social workers and more special education assistants. These are all things that many participants in a Town hall of recent funding of the school in Nashville want K-12 schools.

Most importantly, they want a bigger pie.

And by pie, they mean they want the state to increase the money it spends on K-12 public schools.

Almost 100 people attended town hall, organized by the Tennessee Alliance for Equity in Education, in partnership with Education Trust – Tennessee and Nashville organized for action and hope, or NOAH.

At various points, the crowd yelled “We want a bigger pie” in response to speaker prompts during the public comment portion of the meeting.

City Hall was the latest in a long series to take place statewide this fall since Governor Bill Lee and Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn initiated a review of the state’s current funding formula with the aim of creating a new “student-centered” fundraising strategy.

Guests listen to speakers during a town hall fundraising meeting at Jefferson Street Baptist Missionary Church in Nashville, Tenn. On Monday, December 6, 2021.

Among those in the pews at Jefferson Street Baptist Missionary Church on Monday night was Seth Thorpe, a senior at Pearl-Cohn High School, who said he never had a consistent math teacher for an entire school year.

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PREVIOUSLY:Hundreds of people attended eight town halls across Tennessee. Here’s what they said about how to fund schools

Nadia-Grace Freeman, a sixth-grader at West End Middle School, was also in attendance. His comments caused silence in the church.

Freeman asked the head of the state’s best schools and a staff member to educate teachers on strategies to mitigate bullying – a big deal that she says “really matters” at her school. She also said her teachers and classmates needed funding for supplies.

“There is an art club but some people can’t attend because they sometimes have to bring their own supplies and that’s something a lot of people can’t join because they don’t have supplies and they can’t. not show their creativity, ”explained the 11-year-old.

Also in the crowd was Cassandra Cosgrove, an English teacher at Shwab Elementary School. She fears that teachers will do their best to meet the legally required needs of students with disabilities or English learners, but they can only do the bare minimum due to outdated staffing models that leave many schools underfunded. .

Robert Taylor, a parent of Metro Nashville Public Schools and former school board candidate, holds up a graphic of a pie while speaking during the public comment period for a city hall fundraising schools at the Baptist Missionary Church Jefferson Street in Nashville, Tenn., Monday, December 6, 2021. Taylor compared Tennessee's per-student spending to the national average and noted that the state lags significantly behind the top performing states.

Robert Taylor, a former candidate for the Metro Nashville school board and a parent of seven, not only asked for more pie by presenting two large photos of pecan pie to the Commissioner, but he also asked Tennessee to love their kids.

Tennessee now ranks 44th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia in per student spending, paying nearly $ 4,000 less than the national average, according to an October report report from the Center for Education Law.

RELATED:Political battle lines emerge as Tennessee begins overhauling K-12 funding formula

Taylor represented the disparity by hoisting a small poster of a Tennessee-labeled pie, juxtaposed next to a poster more than four times its size.

Quoting scriptures under the lights of the shrine, Taylor said, “For where your treasure is, there too will your heart be. … The state of Tennessee has a lot of money. It is a treasure. And we are. want to make sure it matches with the hearts of the people and that we show up to spend money where the hearts of the people are, for our children. “

FOLLOWING:What you need to know about the Tennessee school funding formula – and plans to change it

The many speakers were not the first group to call for increased funding for public schools. Since governor’s announcement in October, statewide superintendents spoke out, many argue that conversations about a new funding formula suck without a promise of additional funding.

Hundreds have attended eight town halls hosted by the Tennessee Department of Education across the state in the past six weeks, citing the need for more student support roles (counselors, nurses, social workers), school resource officers, and school resources students with disabilities, learners of English and students from low-income communities, Schwinn told the crowd.

Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn speaks during a town hall on funding schools at Jefferson Street Baptist Missionary Church in Nashville, Tennessee on Monday, December 6, 2021. Schwinn told Tennessean that no state had undergone a similar massive overhaul of its K-12 Schools Funding Strategy did so without increasing the money it spends on education.

Even Ed Trust – Tennessee and the alliance publicly shared their own recommendations, including a call for increased funding and a fair distribution of funds, with more money going to poorer districts.

But Monday night’s crowd were the first to present a pie to Schwinn, tying the metaphor of the night together.

Reverend Perry Wiggins III of Alameda Christian Church in North Nashville presented the pie – a pecan pie from Sweet Creations Pie Bakery – to Schwinn after first sharing his own thoughts.

“The state of Tennessee chronically underfunds public education and too often fails for our children. Raising children is a moral obligation,” Wiggins said. “The state of Tennessee spends over $ 30,000 a year to put someone in jail; he spends about $ 11,000 a year to educate a student in a public school. If we spend more on education, we will spend less on incarceration.

Wiggins shared the stories of students he mentors who have struggled to learn English without much support at school as newcomers to the country.

“These are stories that I hear from a lot of my students. This cannot happen in our schools. We need more funding so that students can receive all the educational support they need and deserve. So what do we want? He urged the crowd.

“Bigger pie,” they roared.

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Meghan Mangrum is covering education for the USA TODAY – Tennessee Network. Contact her at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.

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