Sunday, October 17, 2021

TDOE Announces Chairs of 18 Education Funding Review Subcommittees; Conversations to Explore Student-Based Investment Strategy

Chairs Will Lead Critical Discussions Representative of Tennessee Values 

Press release, Wednesday, Nashville, TN, October 13, 2021- Today, the Tennessee Department of Education announced the chairs for the 18 education funding review subcommittees, who will lead conversations on how to create a student-focused investment strategy from the lens of the state’s students, families, educators, district and school leaders, higher education partners, elected officials, business leaders, and education stakeholders. 

Last week, Governor Lee called for a full review of the state’s funding formula for public education to focus on a student investment strategy that emphasizes all students rather than systems, empowers parents to engage in their child’s education and outcomes, ensures all students are prepared for postsecondary success, and reflects Tennesseans’ values. 

"All stakeholders that have a hand in a child’s education and the future of Tennessee are integral to these conversations on exploring a funding strategy that emphasizes the needs of all students, and we want to provide all Tennesseans a seat at the table to make their voices heard,” said Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “Now is the time for bold action for our kids—to ensure we are doing everything in our power to serve them well, which starts with how we fund their educational journey. We are delighted to welcome these state and national experts to lead conversations on how we can develop a student-focused funding strategy in Tennessee.” 

Each of the 18 subcommittees, composed of 8-10 members, will be led by a chair who is tasked with capturing ideas and feedback based in the unique perspective of the stakeholder group or respective topic area they serve. Additionally, each chair is a trusted advocate to responsibly collect and share feedback and suggestions for a student-based funding approach. The chairs for each of the subcommittees are: 

Student Engagement Subcommittee 
Chair: Elizabeth Brown, State President, Future Business Leaders of America – Tennessee; Senior, Coffee County High School 

Students with Disabilities and Gifted Students Subcommittee 
Chair: Commissioner Brad Turner, Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities 

English Learner Subcommittee 
Chair: Raul Lopez, Executive Director, Latinos for Tennessee 

Economically Disadvantaged and Highly Mobile Students Subcommittee 
Chair: Victor Evans, Executive Director, TennesseeCAN 

Parent Choice and Voice Subcommittee 
Chair: Dr. Derwin Sisnett, Commissioner, Tennessee Public Charter School Commission 

Teacher Advisory Subcommittee
Chair: Morgan Rankin, 2021-22 Teacher of the Year, Johnson City Schools 

Principal Advisory Subcommittee 
Chair: Farrah Griffith, Principal, White County Schools School System 

Personnel Subcommittee 
Chair: Steve Starnes, Director of Schools, Greeneville City Schools School System 

Leadership Subcommittee 
Chair: Dr. Danny Weeks, Director of Schools, Dickson County Schools 

Rural and Small District Subcommittee 
Chair: Janet Ayers, President, The Ayers Foundation 

Suburban Districts, Municipals, and Fast-Growing Communities Subcommittee 
Chair: Dr. Ted Horrell, Director of Schools, Lakeland School System 

Urban District Subcommittee 
Chair: Cato Johnson, Chief of Staff and Senior Vice President of Public Policy/Regulatory Affairs, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare 

Higher Education and Post-Secondary Readiness Subcommittee 
Chair: Dr. Youlanda Jones, President, Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology- Covington, Ripley, and Newbern Post-Secondary 

Readiness and the Business Community Subcommittee 
Chair: Randy Boyd, President, University of Tennessee System 

Chambers of Commerce and Industry Subcommittee 
Chair: Dr. Jared Bigham, Senior Advisor on Workforce & Rural Initiatives, Tennessee Chamber of Commerce 

Education Foundations Subcommittee 
Chair: Dr. Dan Challener, President, Public Education Foundation 

Regional Collectives and Advocacy Subcommittee 
Co-Chairs: Scott Niswonger, Chairman and Founder, Niswonger Foundation, and Dr. Nancy Dishner, President and CEO, Niswonger Foundation 

Fiscal Responsibility Subcommittee
Chair: Justin Owen, President & Chief Executive Officer, Beacon Center of Tennessee 

The state’s engagement includes a central steering committee composed of statewide policymakers and 18 subcommittees, in addition to a committee of national experts, regional meetings of county commissioners and school board members, public engagement representatives, and an opportunity for public comment through a formal survey later in the fall. Over the next three months, the subcommittees will meet twice a month, either in person or virtually. All associated committee meeting materials, including recordings and minutes, will be posted here. Steering committee and subcommittee members will be released in the coming days. 

“Few students have had the opportunity to serve in the development of a student-centered school funding strategy. I am honored to be chosen, especially as a current student,” said Elizabeth Brown, State President, Future Business Leaders of America – Tennessee; Senior, Coffee County High School.
“Every Tennessean impacts public education and should be at the table. I will proudly assist as a subcommittee chair, working alongside student leaders from across Tennessee to ensure that students have the educators and supports needed for every level of education.” 

“Nothing is more important than serving our children, and I am excited to see the state review how we fund public education,” said Cato Johnson, Senior Vice President of Public Policy/Regulatory Affairs & Chief of Staff, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare System. “It is critical that our focus is on ensuring we do the best we can to prepare our students for the future and that must start now. Removing barriers to future success for all Tennessee children is something I am proud to be a part of, and I am thrilled to see these conversations take place across the state to support our students and education in this great state."

“The natural alignment between education and economic development is undeniable, and that begins with building a robust funding structure for our state’s public schools,” said University of Tennessee System President Randy Boyd. “It is also critical that we continue the important work of the Drive to 55 by increasing the number of Tennesseans with post-secondary degrees to 55 percent by 2025. Each percentage we miss translates into a percentage of our population that will either be unemployed or underemployed in the years to come. Tennesseans are relying on our best efforts to create a student-centered approach to school funding, helping to ensure our children are ready for college, career, and life.” 

"Serving Tennessee students and the future leaders of our state should be our top priority, and I am thrilled to focus on exploring a more student-focused education funding strategy to ensure all their needs are met," said Commissioner Brad Turner, Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. "I am honored to serve my state as a subcommittee chair to lead conversations and share feedback from fellow Tennesseans who care about our children and setting them up for success, which ultimately sets our state up for success." 

“I’m honored to facilitate the engagement of Tennessee principals as school, community, and instructional leaders to discuss how every school should be equipped to meet the comprehensive needs of all our students,” said Farrah Griffith, Principal, White County Middle School. “The expertise of principals and their ability to engage families as part of this school funding formula review process is essential to the development of a well-informed strategy for our state moving forward.” 

“Providing access to much-needed resources for our rural communities in Tennessee is essential to the future of our students and our state, and I am proud to serve as a leading voice in these conversations to focus on how to match our students’ needs with our education funding strategy,” said Janet Ayers, President, Ayers Foundation. “Now is the time to act on behalf of our students and continue building on the influx on new businesses and industries coming to Tennessee to ensure they are workforce ready and prepared for post-secondary success.” 

Justin Owen
"How we fund students is important to their future success, and doing that in a fiscally responsible way to ensure we are good stewards of taxpayers' funds is critical for the sustainability and future of our state," said Justin Owen, President & Chief Executive Officer of the Beacon Center of Tennessee. "This process matters because we must balance the interests of all Tennesseans and ensure the dollars we spend go towards measurable educational outcomes. We look forward to finding a strategy that will best serve the students, families, and taxpayers of our entire state." 

"Our state has been a leader in academic achievement and innovation to provide access to essential resources and supports for our students and educators, and it is time to review our education funding strategy to ensure it reflects these ambitious goals and the trajectory of acceleration for our state," said Dr. Danny Weeks, Director of Schools, Dickson County Schools. "I am honored to serve as a chair to lead these critical conversations amongst fellow district and school leaders to dig in and discuss how we can best support our communities." 

“The statewide engagement of a student-centered school funding strategy is a profound moment for our state impacting the prosperity of Tennessee students, families, and communities for generations,” said Nancy Dishner, President and CEO, Niswonger Foundation. “Scott Niswonger and I are proud to do all we can to support this critically important work.” 

Raul Lopez
“As the son of Cuban refugees who knows firsthand the challenges that come with learning a new language, I am honored to accept the governor’s invitation to chair the English Language learner Subcommittee. Although we have been making considerable strides in recent years, far too many Tennessee students are struggling to keep pace – a crisis only exacerbated by the challenges of learning in a global pandemic,” said Raul Lopez, Executive Director, Latinos for Tennessee. “I am particularly excited about Gov. Lee’s proposal to redesign public school funding in the state. Instead of funding institutions and physical buildings, this administration is prioritizing the specific funding needs of customized learning and instruction. I’d like to thank the governor for his vote of confidence in me and look forward to serving the people of Tennessee in my capacity as the chair of the English Language learner Subcommittee.” 

“I applaud Governor Lee, Commissioner Schwinn, and our legislative leaders for looking at ways we can modernize the state's approach to school funding. We need a bold student-centered approach that respects the individual needs of families and children, and that responds to what we have learned during the pandemic so all kids can reach their fullest potential,” said Victor Evans, Executive Director, TennesseeCAN. “I look forward to helping lead that discussion as the chair of the subcommittee zeroing in on the needs of economically disadvantaged and highly-mobile students who were most at risk of falling behind academically before the pandemic and who need our help now more than ever." 

"Now is the time to begin these critically important conversations to explore a new education funding strategy on how we ensure our students are prepared for success on day one of their educational journey," said Dr. Ted Horrell, Superintendent, Lakeland School System. "I am honored to serve as the chair of a subcommittee and represent fellow education leaders and stakeholders who all have the same goal in mind- to ensure the needs of our students, educators, schools, and communities are met and taken into account during these discussions." 

"Addressing our educational funding strategy can have tremendous benefits for students to be able to explore the vast number of workforce opportunities available to them," said Dr. Youlanda Jones, President, Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology - Covington, Ripley, and Newbern. "This work provides us a chance to improve the lives of these students by giving them access to explore future careers and the pathways available. This will go a long way towards meeting Tennessee's future workforce needs and goals." 

“As a former charter school operator, I understand how critical it is to ensure funding is distributed equitably to all students,” said Dr. Derwin Sisnett, Commissioner, Tennessee Public Charter School Commission. “I am grateful for this opportunity from Governor Lee and Commissioner Schwinn to provide a voice for our students, parents, and communities on what their needs are and how we can best support them as we explore possibilities for a new funding strategy.” 

“This is our moment as a state to intentionally review and take action around how we equip schools with the educators and wraparound supports needed to meet the aspirations we have for all Tennessee students,” said Steve Starnes, Director of Schools, Greeneville City Schools. “I look forward to engaging school system leaders to inform a school funding model that will meet the needs of Tennessee students enabling them to succeed in postsecondary and the workforce.” 

"Finding a way to fund education that empowers students and gives them future post-secondary opportunities is critical across rural Tennessee," said Dr. Jared Bigham, Senior Advisor on Workforce & Rural Initiatives, Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry. "Leveling the playing field for these students so they can access the resources and supports they need to be ready for the modern workforce will build stronger communities and our state’s pipeline to continue bringing much-needed business and industry to rural communities in our state."

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