Memphis School Board Sues State Over Funding

     NASHVILLE (CN) – The school district for Tennessee’s most populous area is struggling to meet educational standards because the state hasn’t provided enough funding, the district claims in court.
     The Shelby County Board of Education sued state officials, including Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen, in Davidson County court on Monday. The board of education operates the Shelby County School District, the school system in and around Memphis.
     The school board says the state government has not given it the financial support it needs.
     “The district has been continuously making drastic cuts because of a lack of funding,” the complaint states. “The lack of funding has directly impacted plaintiff SCBE’s ability to provide all of its students with a free, adequate, and equitable education pursuant to the Tennessee Constitution and Tennessee statute.”
     The lawsuit claims that 367 positions have been eliminated from the 2015-2016 school year budget. It also says 17 schools have closed since 2013.
     More than 80 percent of students in the Shelby County School District are “economically disadvantaged,” according to the complaint. The school board says about 36 percent of its students live in a household with an income of $10,000 or less per year.
     “Because of the lack of funding, the district is unable to provide many of these impoverished, mainly-minority students with an education that would allow them to achieve the outcomes mandated by the Tennessee Constitution given the high-density urban setting in which the district operates nor an education that is substantially equal to the education received by other students in the state,” the lawsuit states.
     The state’s basic education plan, or BEP, has been around since the early 1990s and outlines a statewide system for school funding. The BEP formula calculates staffing for each school and “determines total staffing costs as a function of quantities and salaries,” according to the complaint.
     The Shelby County Board of Education says has not fully funded schools according to the BEP, resulting in teachers having to pay for students’ pencils, paper and other supplies. The lawsuit also claims many schools in the district do not have the technical infrastructure to support mandatory online testing.
     “During pilot test runs, many schools experienced school-wide computer failures and crashes due to the school’s outdated wiring and low capacity infrastructure,” the complaint states. “Further, there are many schools that do not have a sufficient number of computers to even allow the students to complete the online assessment.”
     The school board claims state officials violated the Tennessee Constitution, including its requirement to provide students with an adequate education and its equal protection clauses.
     “Since the amendments to the BEP in 2007, not only has the state failed to implement its own funding statute but also the state has adopted increasingly rigorous academic standards for Tennessee’s students and accountability measures for local boards of education,” the lawsuit states. “The state has, nevertheless, failed to provide any funds to offset the costs a local board of education must incur in order to comply with the state’s standards.
     The Shelby County Board of Education seeks a court order declaring that current school funding is inadequate and an injunction requiring the state legislature to appropriate sufficient funding. It is represented by Rodney Moore of Lewis, Brisbois, Bisgaard & Smith in Atlanta.
     A spokesman for Gov. Bill Haslam said he has no comment on the pending litigation.

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