Sevier County Schools want more state funding

Sevier County Board of Education (Source: Kyle Grainger, WVLT)

SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Sevier County Schools say they're not getting a fair cut of Tennessee's education pie and want the state to change the way it distributes funding.

Tennessee's formula for education funding, called the Basic Education Program, or BEP, focuses on each county's ability to pay for students in their schools. In some counties, that figure is higher than others - and it's one of the highest in the state in Sevier County, where consumer spending is about $1.7 billion dollars a year.

The state averages that $1.7 billion in spending across the county's population of 90,000 to determine what the county schools can afford to pay per student in Sevier County schools. But the school district and hospitality alliances say that formula never takes the millions of tourists who may only spend one night into account.

"We need it. We're viewed as a very wealthy county and we're not,"said Jennifer Dyer, parent. "We are blessed, but our kids just deserve the same that other parts of the state get."

The BEP guarantees that each student in Tennessee schools has access to enough funding for a statewide basic level of education. Any spending above that must come directly from the county or city school system. Sevier County funds about 60% of the overall schools budget with the state chipping in 40%. Every other district gets about 70% state funding and 30% local funding. Sevier County School leaders say they just want the gap closed so they can make up the $4 million that the state's not paying the county now.

"If a child was in Knox County, they would get $349 dollars more each year from the state of TN," said Karen King, Sevier County Schools Finance Director. "Education is the most precious commodity any community has. Education is important and Sevier County does not want to be left behind."

Under the BEP formula, counties put money into a statewide education fund in exchange for equal education dollars. Sevier County hospitality managers say county schools get the least amount of money from the state, but pay the most in - while county figures show just how poor county residents actually are.

The unemployment rate in Sevier County stays around 10% during off season months. 63% of the kids are on a free or reduced lunch plan, which is one of the highest rates in the state.

"We don't want to do anything to hurt the program, we just want them to look at readjusting it but there's other programs too that the BEP formula just does not work," said Ken Maples with Sevier County Hospitality.

The formula is being evaluated by the state and could change next year. The last time the formula was adjusted was in 2007.

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