Once Reluctant, Metro Joins School Districts Suing For More State Funding

The Metro school board voted in June to pursue a lawsuit, with board members Mary Pierce and Elissa Kim abstaining. Credit: DOUGLAS CORZINE / WPLN (FILE PHOTO)

The Metro school board voted in June to pursue a lawsuit, with board members Mary Pierce and Elissa Kim abstaining. Credit: DOUGLAS CORZINE / WPLN (FILE PHOTO)

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Nashville’s public schools have officially joined the legal fight over state funding. The district follows Memphis and Chattanooga in suing Governor Bill Haslam to get more education money. But the complaint — approved in June and filed on Thursday — is particular to Nashville.

Metro Schools accuses the state of not keeping its commitments related to English learners. Schools are supposed to receive additional money for each student who is a non-native English speaker. That pays for more teachers and translators. For example, the lawsuit says schools are supposed to get one translator for every 200 students, but right now they’re getting one for every 250.

More: Read Metro Schools’ Lawsuit

In all, the district estimates it’s missing out on more than $3 million a year. Nashville has more English learners than anywhere else, but school board member Will Pinkston says every district has some reason to gripe about the state’s education funding, which lags the national average.

“The problem that we’ve got right now is not equity — how the pie is carved — but rather adequacy — the size of the pie,” he says.

In the late 1970s, a school funding lawsuit focused on the fairness toward small districts. The outcome did lead to a new funding formula called the Basic Education Plan. But it took 15 years. That’s why school districts are not expecting a swift resolution to the latest lawsuits.

More: NPR’s Map On School Funding Lawsuits Around The Nation

In Tennessee, Hamilton County was the first to file suit along with a half dozen rural districts surrounding it. Shelby County Schools filed its lawsuit a year ago.

This story was originally published on Sept. 2, 2016.

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