Tennessee ranks last in the nation for spending on schools, and only about half of that money makes it into actual classrooms. Those are the findings of two studies, issued by two very different organizations.
The Education Law Center is a liberal group that advocates for spending more on classrooms with the poorest students. The ELC gave Tennessee a C for policies that give a little extra help to the students who have the least. But looking at the overall totals for 2009, the ELC found that Tennessee spent less per pupil than any other state. Tennessee also ranked last for the percent of its gross domestic product earmarked for education.
Another report issued last month questions how that money is spent. Looking at figures for 2012, the conservative Beacon Center of Tennessee found that less than 54 percent of the state’s education dollars end up in the classroom. It says spending on teachers, textbooks and classroom supplies is on the decline while administrator salaries continue to rise. The Beacon Center also suggested that actual spending on Tennessee’s schools is underreported by about 11%.
But even when the figures in the ELC rankings are adjusted to add that supposedly unreported money, Tennessee’s per-pupil spending is less than half of what’s allocated in places like Wyoming, New Jersey and Alaska.
The ELC rankings are based on numbers that pre-date the federal grant known as Race to the Top. Tennessee won roughly half a billion dollars to spend on strategies for changing education in the state. The grant runs out at the end of this school year.