Giving Compass' Take:

• Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition provides policy recommendations to improve educational equity for rural schools. 

• How can funders help to implement policy improvements for rural schools? 

• Learn more about the value of rural schools

1. Revise the Basic Education Program to address specific student and school need. Tennessee should revise the Basic Education Program and fund schools based on the unique needs of their students and programs. The funding formula can provide a flat rate of funding to all schools, and then add additional premiums for schools based on the number of low-income students, or those with a disability or learning English, or those attending rural schools.

2. Consider Student-Based Budgeting at the district level. Currently, many school districts in Tennessee disperse federal, state and local funding to their schools based on student characteristics and need. This student-based budgeting formula has the potential to address inequity across and within schools, and should be expanded to all districts across the state.

3. Consider requiring Educator Preparation Programs that receive public dollars to mandate coursework that focuses on English Learners. Policymakers and administrators must embrace policies that prepare all teachers to address the needs of ELs. The State Board of Education should consider mandating teacher preparation programs to require teacher candidates to take at least three credit hours that focus on language acquisition and literacy development for English Learners. Upon adoption of the regulation, teacher preparation programs should be given time to develop and align program requirements successfully.

4. Provide an English Learner instructional specialist in each of the regional CORE offices of the Tennessee Department of Education. Rural ESL teachers are isolated geographically but also professionally, and they have few opportunities to receive training and learn together. The Tennessee Department of Education should place one EL coordinator in each CORE office in order to provide ongoing professional development and support to teachers, staff and administrators.

5. Invest in (1) focused regionalized councils and (2) local higher education centers to promote postsecondary pathways. The Office of the Governor, policymakers and industry leaders should invest in expanding the work of Tennessee Pathways, the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, and other workforce boards to form regionalized councils that focus on EPSO expansion for secondary schools within specific regions. The councils, composed of high school administrators and counselors, higher education professionals, and regional industry leaders, will collaborate to determine workforce needs and expand EPSO options for students in Tennessee. The council may also appropriate funds to address staffing, student and building needs to address the costs associated with EPSO expansion. To address the role of higher education proximity in providing EPSOs, the Office of the Governor and lawmakers should expand the work of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, the Tennessee Board of Regents and other industry partners in creating higher education centers. Centers would serve as a “pop-up” center in more isolated communities, where multiple higher education institutions – from technical colleges to universities – may convene to provide degree-bearing coursework for students in a geographically accessible manner.

6. Set district-wide goals for enrolling students in a variety Early Postsecondary Opportunities courses. Districts must set goals for expanding access to EPSO courses by student group, and develop strategies to ensure every graduate transitions through a pathway that provides college credit and/ or industry certifications.

7. Provide a financial incentive to teacher candidates to teach in schools experiencing geographic and/or content-specific teacher shortages. State lawmakers should consider legislation to provide financial incentives – whether in the form of loan forgiveness or undergraduate education scholarships – for teacher candidates who agree to teach in areas with shortages of instructors, either by geography and content area. Similar to Colorado’s model, the Tennessee Department of Education should determine Tennessee’s most critical shortage areas.

8. Develop partnerships with state leaders, foundations, local educator preparation programs and other stakeholders to provide additional incentives and adequate preparation for teacher candidates needed in rural districts. Rural districts and partners should seek collaborative opportunities to provide signing bonuses and additional financial incentives for new teacher candidates. Incentives may include underwriting the costs of additional teaching certifications or endorsements for an EPSO course or ESL instruction, as well as residential stipends.