Stirred by what he believes are insufficient state funds allocated to Metro Nashville Public Schools, Councilman Eric Crafton said he and other members plan to hand Mayor Karl Dean a letter urging him to sue the state on behalf of Metro government.
At issue for Crafton and others is the state’s Basic Education Program, which establishes the amount of state dollars set aside for school districts by taking into account, among other factors, a county’s fiscal capacity, measured primarily by property values and sales tax collections. Metro uses two-thirds of its sales tax revenue to fund public schools.
Under the BEP formula, Tennessee’s smaller rural counties rely on greater proportions of state dollars for school funding than larger counties. On average, the state spends $2,523 on each MNPS student, compared with $3,988 on the average Tennessee student, according to recent figures. As a result, Davidson County ranks second-to-last in per-pupil state funding, behind only Knox County.
“We’ve met with the Davidson County delegation,” Crafton said. “They’ve said because we’re so outnumbered by representatives of the rural counties, that the only way we can seek an equitable distribution of funds is to actually file a lawsuit against the state.”
Slapping a lawsuit on state government could be a hard sell to the mayor’s office, however.
In a written statement, Janel Lacy, Dean’s spokeswoman, called Gov. Phil Bredesen a “strong advocate for public education” who has “worked closely with Mayor Dean on education reform.”
“Any lawsuit brought by Metro government is originated by the law department,” Lacy added. “If Mr. Crafton believes there is something illegal about the way the state is allocating funds for education, he can bring that to the attention of Metro Legal.”
As of Tuesday, Crafton said he had enlisted 20 council members to sign the “letter of cooperation” and thought the number would increase to 25. He said a news conference for the cause would likely take place later this week.
Crafton, who represents parts of Bellevue and is running as a Republican for juvenile court clerk, has called attention to the state’s BEP formula before.
Over the summer, Crafton sponsored a memorializing resolution asking Bredesen and the state legislature to revise the BEP formula to “ensure a more equitable distribution of funds” for MNPS.