Tennessee, school districts seek delay in funding lawsuit

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A 6-year-old lawsuit challenging how Tennessee funds public schools might be paused until after the upcoming legislative session.

Memphis and Nashville’s school districts and the state agreed to put the proceedings on hold in a joint motion filed Nov. 19, The Tennessean reported. The three-judge panel overseeing the case has not yet made a ruling.

The judges are scheduled to hear arguments for contradictory motions for summary judgment in the case on Friday. Granting a summary judgment or the joint motion would eliminate the need to go to trial in February as planned.

Shelby County Schools — the state’s largest district, which is based in Memphis — filed the original lawsuit in 2015. Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools signed on two years later, and 87 smaller districts joined in 2020. The suit questions whether the state allocates enough money for K-12 education through the Basic Education Program funding formula, especially in urban areas.

Gov. Bill Lee is expected to share a new strategy with lawmakers for education funding. He and Penny Schwinn, Tennessee’s education commissioner, started a 90-day public comment period on Oct. 8 to gather feedback on an alternative funding plan.

The joint motion filed by the state Attorney General’s Office says the parties are aiming to resolve the issue without judicial intervention and have agreed to allow the districts to provide input during the governor’s review of the Basic Education Program. It suggests that Lee might propose legislative changes to the formula during the 2022 session.

Educators have argued that the current funding model leaves much of the burden on local governments. The newspaper reports that Tennessee spends around $7 billion annually on K-12 education, about $5.6 billion of which comes from the state.