Saturday, September 30, 2023
HomeEducationTennessee faculties want $9 billion of infrastructure funding, report says

Tennessee faculties want $9 billion of infrastructure funding, report says

Tennessee wants to speculate greater than $9 billion in its Ok-12 training infrastructure over 5 years, a rise of almost 9% from an evaluation finished a yr earlier, a brand new state report says.

Of that quantity, about $5.4 billion is required for renovations and expertise enhancements, whereas almost $3.6 billion is required to construct additions and new faculties, in accordance with the Tennessee Advisory Fee on Intergovernmental Relations.

The report, permitted Thursday by the fee, comes as native and state officers grapple with the way to cowl the hovering prices of college building, which have doubled within the final decade as a consequence of rising materials and labor prices. 

In the meantime, years of analysis exhibits that fixing college buildings can enhance scholar studying, well being, and habits. One examine in Tennessee exhibits a direct connection between scholar achievement and the situation of college buildings. One other examine from New York discovered that poor constructing circumstances can result in larger charges of continual absenteeism.

In Tennessee, cities and counties pay for many of their college facility wants with property and gross sales tax revenues. However some state lawmakers are searching for methods to ease that burden.

Final yr, one legislative proposal would have directed tax revenues from Tennessee’s new sports activities betting trade towards native college facility prices. However the measure fizzled in committee as legislators opted to maintain most of that cash — at the least for now — for larger training scholarships, such because the state’s fashionable HOPE and Tennessee Promise packages.

This yr, new laws to get rid of state mandates on class sizes — if permitted — might sluggish the necessity for brand spanking new faculties and additions. 

However many native officers would like a brand new state income stream to assist them restore or exchange growing older faculties. 

Miska Clay Bibbs, a former college board member in Memphis who was elected final yr to the Shelby County Fee, stated a broader dialog is overdue. Not less than 33 Memphis faculties had been constructed earlier than 1950.

“Not solely is Memphis-Shelby County Faculties the state’s largest college district, however most of our faculty buildings are a number of the oldest,” stated Clay Bibbs. “These buildings don’t mirror the greatness of the scholars, lecturers and households that these faculties signify.

“It makes for a troublesome studying atmosphere,” she stated.

A sign outside a school reads “Trezevant High School”

A brand new constructing to exchange Trezevant Excessive College was placed on maintain final yr as a consequence of restricted funding. The college has one of many highest deferred upkeep payments of any public college in Memphis-Shelby County Faculties.

Laura Religion Kebede / Chalkbeat

Tennessee wants 70 extra faculties by 2026

The stock compiled by the state fee, which stories on to the legislature, serves as a yearly reminder of Tennessee’s billions of {dollars} in unmet capital building wants — from schoolhouses and roads to bridges and water strains. The report has been compiled yearly since 1998 and has turn out to be an necessary device to determine vital wants and set state priorities within the budget-making course of.

The most recent wants listing tallied $63 billion in all, with training rating second once more, behind transportation and simply forward of well being and security infrastructure wants akin to clear water, regulation enforcement, hearth safety, and public well being.

Within the training class, school campuses noticed a lower of their infrastructure wants after a number of years of latest investments, whereas Ok-12 public faculties noticed their wants improve.

Native officers reported needing to construct 70 extra faculties throughout Tennessee by mid-2026, at a mean estimated value of $42 million every. That quantity can differ broadly, nonetheless, relying on the college’s measurement, location, and goal. For example, Sullivan County’s new highschool value $75 million, whereas a brand new Ok-8 college in Lincoln County got here in at $17 million.

Rep. David Hawk, a Republican from Greeneville, stated his native college district is watching a $50 million price ticket to construct a brand new center college in Higher East Tennessee. He added that one thing has received to offer.

“Brick and mortar for training is likely one of the largest prices to native governments, which go into substantial debt to construct faculties to fulfill state mandates,” stated Hawk.

For a lot of his 20-year legislative profession, Hawk has seemed for a solution to direct state funds to construct faculties, and he sponsored final yr’s failed invoice to make use of sports activities betting income for that goal. He doesn’t plan to file the same invoice this yr however says he needs to proceed to “push the envelope.”

“We will and may do extra,” Hawk stated.

Sen. Jon Lundberg says infrastructure challenges aren’t the impetus for his invoice this yr to get rid of Tennessee’s most class measurement necessities of 25 college students in kindergarten by third grades, 30 college students in grades 4-6, and 35 college students in grades 7-12. 

“My purpose is to not create bigger class sizes; it’s simply to offer localities extra discretion when there are extenuating circumstances, akin to when a classroom has trainer aides,” Lundberg stated. “The state would nonetheless put out finest practices on optimum class sizes.”

However the Bristol Republican, who chairs the Senate Training Committee, acknowledged that such a change might even have the unintended impact of lessening stress on native governments to construct new faculties or additions as their scholar populations develop.

“It’s potential,” he stated. “My expectation is that domestically elected leaders will do what’s proper.”

Memphis has an extended listing of constructing wants

Final August, the collapse of a college library ceiling at one college — when college was in session — underscored the significance of addressing longstanding capital wants in Memphis-Shelby County Faculties. 

No college students had been within the library on the time at Cummings Ok-8 Elective College, however the college librarian and two different workers members had been injured. All college students will end out this college yr at a neighboring college pending repairs and the end result of a structural evaluate.

In keeping with the state’s newest breakdown of native wants, Memphis-Shelby County Faculties wants to handle college infrastructure initiatives totaling greater than $464 million, at a price of $3,450 per scholar, by mid-2026.

However funding is a problem. Final summer season, Shelby County commissioners granted solely half of the Memphis district’s $55 million request for capital enhancements, placing a number of main initiatives on maintain, together with a substitute constructing for Trezevant Excessive College within the metropolis’s Frayser neighborhood.

Interim Superintendent Toni Williams is compiling a brand new capital enchancment plan to deliver earlier than the fee this yr. However Clay Bibbs, who chairs the Shelby County Fee’s training committee, says reduction from the state might expedite enhancements.

“Think about if we had extra {dollars} to tackle extra initiatives. Change might occur sooner,” she stated.

Tennessee obtained over $4 billion from three federal COVID reduction packages, however Gov. Invoice Lee and GOP leaders inspired college districts to use at the least half of their parts on packages and assets to assist their college students catch up academically from the pandemic.

Districts spent a lot of the early funds on expertise upgrades like digital tablets. Some used a part of their later funds to improve air flow, heating, and air con methods in class buildings. Nevertheless, a lot of that spending was not captured within the newest state report, which supplies a snapshot of infrastructure wants as of July 2021. 

“We would see a drop in a few of these areas subsequent yr,” stated Tyler Carpenter, the fee’s analysis supervisor and the report’s co-author.

The governor has stated he’ll prioritize Tennessee’s transportation infrastructure backlog this yr. He’s anticipated to unveil his proposed state price range for the 2023-24 fiscal yr on Feb. 6.

Marta Aldrich is a senior correspondent and covers the statehouse for Chalkbeat Tennessee. Contact her at

Rafael Gomes de Azevedo
Rafael Gomes de Azevedo
He started his career as a columnist, contributing to the staff of a local blog. His articles with amusing views on everyday situations in the news soon became one of the main features of the current editions of the blog. For the divergences of thought about which direction the blog would follow. He left and founded three other great journalistic blogs,, and With a certain passion for writing, holder of a versatile talent, in addition to coordinating, directing, he writes fantastic scripts quickly, he likes to say that he writes for a select group of enthusiasts in love with serious and true writing.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Most Popular

Recent Comments