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Public education in Tennessee

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K-12 Education in Tennessee
State Superintendent: Kevin Huffman
Number of students: 999,693[1]
Number of teachers: 66,382
Teacher/pupil ratio: 1:15.1
Number of school districts: 140
Number of schools: 1,802
Graduation rate: 87%[2]
Per-pupil spending: $8,242[3]
See also
Public education in Tennessee
Tennessee Department of Education
Tennessee school districts
List of school districts in Tennessee
The Tennessee public school system (prekindergarten-grade 12) operates within districts governed by locally elected school boards members and superintendents. Tennessee has 136 school districts.

The Tennessee state constitution requires that the General Assembly provide for the "maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools. The General Assembly may establish and support such post-secondary educational institutions, including public institutions of higher learning, as it determines."[4]

School revenues, expenditures and budget

See also: Tennessee state budget
Tennessee's education costs are 19% of the state spending

The total proposed FY 2011 budget equals $28.41 billion. Of the total budget, Pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade totals $5.36 billion or 19% of the state budget. Higher education equals $3.71 billion, 13% of the total budget.[5] The state, according to January 2010 reports, is facing an estimated $1 billion shortfall.[6] The General Assembly passed a $29.6 billion total budget for FY 2010 that started July 1, 2009, $12.1 billion of which is state spending and $2.2 billion federal stimulus money (total federal is almost $12 billion).[7]

The cost per pupil is $7,739, ranking 47th in the nation according the Census Bureau 2007-2008 report.[8]

University dropouts

Between 2003 and 2008, that state provided $200 million in subsidies and grants to students who chose to drop out of college 2 years into their degree.[9]

Personnel salaries

In the 2006-2007 school year, Tennessee's Department of Education reported base salaries as follows:[10]

  • Average Teacher Salary with Bachelor's Degree: $28,365
  • Average Teacher Salary with Master's Degree: $31,541
  • Average Teacher Salary with PhD: $38,025

The chart below outlines the average teacher salary for each of Tennessee's school districts for the 2008-2009 school year, according to the Tennessee Education Association.[11]


Collective Bargaining and Tenure

Collective Bargaining

Companion bills are pending in the Tennessee House and Senate that would end collective bargaining by teachers, making it so that Tennessee school districts no longer have to negotiate with teachers' unions.[12] The Senate Education Committee approved Senate Bill 0113 along party lines by a vote of 6-3 on Feb. 16, 2011.[12] The Senate held up a vote on the bill while House leaders work on an amendment that would give local school boards the option of deciding whether to negotiate contracts with their teachers, and which may ease passage of the bill.[13] Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has remained neutral on the bill.[13]

Supporters of the bills note that none of Tennessee's neighboring states require collective bargaining with teachers, and that the teachers' negotiating rights are unique among public employees.[12] Arguing against the bill, a lobbyist for the Tennessee Education Association said that the legislation unfairly targets teachers.[12] Opponents also say the move takes away the assurance that teachers are compensated at decent levels,noting that Tennessee teachers own salaries below the national average.[14]

Teacher Tenure

The Senate passed a Republican-supported bill that would make it more difficult for teachers to get and keep tenure on March 10, 2011.[15] A companion bill was passed by the House Education Committee on March 11, 2011.[16]

Under the bill, teachers would not be eligible for tenure for at least five years - up from the current three-year probationary period - and they could lose that status later if students perform poorly on standardized tests.[17] To be considered, teachers would have to rank in the top two categories of a five-tier evaluation process for two consecutive years.[16]

Tenured teachers could be placed on probation again if they miss the top two tiers for two consecutive years.

Role of Unions

The main unions related to the Tennessee school system is the Tennessee Education Association (TEA), an affiliate of the National Education Association (NEA). For the 2003 tax period NCAE had: $10.20 million in total revenue, $9.51 million in total expenses and $11.94 million in total assets.[18]

List of local Tennessee school unions:[19]

Role of school boards

The State Board of Education is comprised of nine members including a student member. Each member represents one of the state's congressional districts. All members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the general assembly. Board members serve a nine-year term, while the student member serves a one-year term.[20] The State Board of Education is responsible for governing the state's elementary and secondary education systems. Some of the boards duties include evaluating curriculum, teacher education, implementing laws and policies, monitoring teacher and student performance, and working closely with the general assembly to secure legislative support of education.[21]

Taxpayer-funded lobbying

See also: Tennessee government sector lobbying

The main education government sector lobbying organization is the Tennessee School Boards Association.


Tennessee has a statewide, official spending database online, "Open Government for the State of Tennessee." In addition, thanks to Tennessee House Bill 246 (2009), a spending transparency site mandated by the legislature will be available by January 1, 2010. As Nebraska's treasurer Shane Osborn pointed out in his letter to Tennessee's legislators, "In the current economic climate, it is as important as ever that citizens have the ability to easily navigate the state budget, giving them access to information on how government is spending their hard-earned income."[22]

Academic performance

In the 2009 school year, Tennessee schools did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements. AYP is used by the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program to determine the academic performance of schools. The state did, however, meet AYP requirements in 2007 and 2008.[23]

Year Math AYP Reading AYP Attendance Rate State AYP Status
2007 met met met met
2008 met met met met
2009 met met met Did not meet

State Budget Solutions’ Education Study: “Throwing Money At Education Isn’t Working”

State Budget Solutions’ examined national trends in education from 2009-2011, including state-by-state analysis of education spending, graduation rates, and average ACT scores. The study shows that states that spend the most do not have the highest average ACT test scores, nor do they have the highest average graduation rates. A summary of the study is available here. Download the full report here: Throwing Money At Education Isn’t Working.

See National Chart to compare data from all 50 states.

State Spending on Education vs. Academic Performance 2012

State 2011 Total Spending[24] 2011 Education Spending[25] 2011 Percent Education Spending 2012 Total Spending[26] 2012 Education Spending[27] 2012 Percent Education Spending 2010 Avg. ACT score[28] 2011 Avg. ACT score[29] 2012 Avg. ACT score[30] 2010 Graduation Rate[31] 2011 Graduation Rate[32]
Tennessee $53.8 billion $12.7 billion 23.6% $54.7 billion $13.1 billion 23.9% 19.6 19.5 19.7 72.6% 74.9%

School choice

School choice options include:

  • Charter schools: The state of Tennessee had 17 public charter schools in the 2007-2008 school year, according to reports. Approximately 2,500 students are said to have attended charter schools.[33]
  • Public school open enrollment: the state of Tennessee has two open enrollment policies: intra-district (voluntary and mandatory) and inter-district. In other words, students are permitted to attend a different school within their school district or in any school outside their neighborhood school district. Additionally, students in low-performing schools may attend another school within their district.[34]
  • Online learning: In 2006 the state of Tennessee created e4TN, a state-led online learning program. The program was implemented in 2008. The program serves students in grades 7-12 and in 2008 reported 2,791 course registrations.[33] According to e4TN the program consists of 25 high school courses based on state curriculum standards.[35]

External links


  1. National Center for Education Statistics, "Table 2. Number of operating public schools and districts, state enrollment, teacher and pupil/teacher ratio by state: School year 2011–12," accessed March 18, 2014
  2. ED Data Express, "State Tables Report," accessed March 17, 2014 The site includes this disclaimer: "States converted to an adjusted cohort graduation rate [starting in the 2010-2011 school year], which may or may not be the same as the calculation they used in prior years. Due to the potential differences, caution should be used when comparing graduation rates across states."
  3. United States Census Bureau, "Public Education Finances: 2011," accessed March 18, 2014
  4. Tennessee Constitution,"Article XI, Section 12," retrieved May 1, 2010
  5. Tennessee Government,"FY 2010-11 state budget," retrieved May 1, 2010
  6. The Chattanoogan,"Bo Watson: State Could Face $1 Billion Shortfall," January 4, 2010
  7. Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration, "The Budget Fiscal Year 2009-2010," March 23, 2009
  8. Maine Watchdog, Education Spending Per Child, July 6, 2010
  9. Tennessee Watchdog, College dropouts cost state plenty, Oct. 15, 2010
  10. Teaching Tips,"Tennessee," retrieved May 1, 2010
  11. Tennessee Education Association,"Average Salaries of Classroom Teachers 2008-2009," retrieved May 1, 2010
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 The Deseret News "Bill targets teacher collective bargaining rights" Feb. 16, 2011
  13. 13.0 13.1 The Tennessean "At TN Capitol, 3,000 rally for teachers' voices to be heard" March 6, 2011
  14. The Mountain Press "Union busting? Legislature studies bill that would reverse teachers’ right to collective bargaining" Feb. 21, 2011
  15. Businessweek March 10, 2011
  16. 16.0 16.1 The Times Free Press "Haslam tenure overhaul clears first House hurdle" March 11, 2011
  17. Forbes "TN gov seeks to reassure teachers over law changes" March 11, 2011
  18. Center for Union Facts,"Tennessee Education Association," retrieved May 1, 2010
  19. Center for Union Facts,"Tennessee teachers unions," retrieved May 1, 2010
  20. Tennessee Department of Education,"About State Board of Education," retrieved May 1, 2010
  21. ''Tennessee Department of Education,"State Board of Education," retrieved May 1, 2010
  22. Treasurer Shane Osborn, "Letter from Treasurer Shane Osborn to Tennessee's Legislators," March 17, 2009
  23. Tennessee Department of Education,"2009 State AYP Summary," retrieved May 1, 2010
  24. "Alabama Government Spending Chart - Total Spending" Aug. 4, 2012
  25. "Alabama Government Spending Chart - Education Spending"Aug. 4, 2012
  26. "Alabama Government Spending Chart - Total Spending" Aug. 4, 2012
  27. "Alabama Government Spending Chart - Education Spending"Aug. 4, 2012
  28. 2010 ACT National and State Scores "Average Scores by State"
  29. [ 2011 ACT National and State Scores " Average Scores by State"]
  30. [ 2011 ACT National and State Scores " Average Scores by State"]
  31. National Center for Education Statistics
  32. National Center for Education Statistics
  33. 33.0 33.1 The Heritage Foundation,"Tennessee School Choice," retrieved May 1, 2010
  34. Education Commission of the States,"Open Enrollment: 50-State Report," retrieved May 1, 2010
  35. e4TN,"About e4TN," retrieved May 1, 2010