Reforming the state’s K-12 education funding system and approving redistricting plans are among the top items to be addressed by state lawmakers returning to the Tennessee Capitol this week.
The 2022 legislative session is set to begin at noon Tuesday. Here are a few items — other than the annually required state budget — to watch for during this year’s session.
Changes in the state’s K-12 funding system
Gov. Bill Lee announced plans to overhaul the state’s funding mechanism for K-12 education in October. A framework for the new plan is expected from the Tennessee Department of Education this week.
The new formula would replace the current system, known as the Basic Education Program, which has been in place for nearly 30 years. It is expected to set a base per-pupil funding amount and include additional provisions for student needs including financial status, disabilities and district characteristics. It’s also expected to include incentives for schools to involve students in career-centric programs and AP testing.
Tennessee ranks 45th nationally for K-12 education funding, spending an average of $11,328 per student in 2020-21. The state is budgeted to spend $5.6 billion in public education this fiscal year.
State and federal redistricting
In the last 10 years, Tennessee experienced an 8.9% population increase, according to results of the 2020 census. Over the summer House and Senate bipartisan redistricting committees met and gathered public feedback on the future of state and federal legislative districts.
Last month, the House Redistricting Committee unveiled and approved a draft map that would force several Democratic incumbents in Knox, Davidson and Shelby counties to run against fellow Democratic incumbents in 2022. Fewer Republican incumbents would be impacted.
The Senate Redistricting Committee has not yet adopted a draft map, and a date has not been announced for the committee’s next meeting.
New legislative districts are expected to be finalized early in the session to give candidates time to consider candidacy before the qualifying deadline in April.
After the legislature concluded a special session to address state and local COVID-19 responses in October, it’s likely some revisions to current law will be proposed. Since the special session, Rep. Brandon Ogles, R-Franklin, has filed legislation to punish with a fine of up to $5,000 employers who take adverse action against an employee in an attempt to force them to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
Watch out, Yelp
Rep. David Byrd, R-Waynesboro, has filed a consumer protection bill prohibiting people from posting false reviews on the internet about businesses with “intent to defraud the public.”
Some lawmakers are proposing measures to ensure Tennessee elections are even more secure. Late last year, Sen. Janice Bowling filed legislation to require a statewide investigation and audit of the 2020 election. The Coffee County Republican has since withdrawn that bill.
West Tennessee Republican Rep. Bruce Griffey has filed a bill that would prohibit the use of electronic voting machines and require elections to be conducted using hand-marked paper ballots. It would also authorize poll watchers to record videos at polling locations. Griffey has said he will not seek re-election this year.
Last year, lawmakers passed and Lee signed into law the Tennessee Election Integrity Act, requiring all absentee ballots include a watermark. Tennessee was ranked third in the nation for election integrity by the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation in 2021.
Cutting school funding for illegal immigrants
Griffey also has introduced a bill authorizing public and charter schools to deny enrollment to students who are unlawfully in the United States. It also would cut state education funding for children not lawfully present in the United States.
Professional privilege tax
It’s likely a proposal will surface to eliminate the annual $400 professional privilege tax paid by Tennesseans in seven professions, including attorneys, investment advisers, lobbyists and doctors. Americans for Prosperity included eliminating the tax in its legislative agenda for the year.
Last year, two separate proposals to end the tax for four more professions were taken off notice and effectively died in committee.
School board pay
Some school board members could see a pay raise, thanks to legislation filed by Chattanooga Republican Sen. Todd Gardenhire. He’s filed a bill to require pay and benefits for school board members to be set at the same rate offered to those serving on a local governing body.
Several local school districts in Tennessee already pay school board members at the same rate as local council or county commission members, but many are paid at a much lower rate. Currently, school board members make $14,000 per year, nearly $10,000 less than members of the Metro Council.
Residency requirements for first responders
A proposal by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, and Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, to eliminate residency requirements for police officers and first responders to live in the county in which they work passed the Senate last year and now is up for consideration in the House.
Nashville police officers are not required to live in Davidson County, but currently, Memphis officers are required to live in Shelby County. Last year, the Memphis City Council acknowledged that the city was 400 officers short of its hiring goal.
“Limiting a workforce by limiting the labor pool has never been a good answer,” Faison said in a statement. “This legislation will open the labor pool and you will see crime drop.”