By MATT BLOIS
State legislators from Williamson County told a group at a Williamson Inc. event on Tuesday morning they want to change the way Tennessee funds public schools.
State Sen. Jack Johnson also said he expects the 2020 census will require the state to redraw Williamson County’s political districts due to rapid growth.
Representative Sam Whitson, who serves on a transportation subcommittee, added that he hopes the legislature will find a way to fund more infrastructure projects and reduce traffic issues.
Williamson, Inc. organized a visit to the Tennessee state capitol to show how legislators advocate for the county’s business interests and how the business community can be a resource for local legislators.
During a panel at the capitol, Johnson told the group he doesn’t think Williamson County gets enough money from the state to fund its public schools.
He estimated that Williamson County Schools get about half of their funding from the state, while some other areas get close to 90 percent of funding from the state. He said that’s because the formula calculating state funding doesn’t take into account the county’s rapid growth.
Johnson said the county’s legislative delegation is working on legislation that would provide funding for schools outside of that formula.
“We have legislation that we’re all supporting and many of our colleagues in the General Assembly are supporting as well that would create a funding mechanism outside of the BEP formula, allocating additional dollars for high-growth school districts like ours,” he said. “No commitments, no promises. We’ve had lengthy conversations with Governor Lee so he understands the situation so it’s something we are going to be working on.”
During his campaign, Bill Lee also discussed the possibility of using school vouchers, but Johnson said any proposal about vouchers wouldn’t affect Williamson County.
“Any discussion of a voucher-type program or an education savings account-type program will be limited to the bottom ‘X’ percent of failing schools,” he said. “What we have passed in the Senate previously would be a limited program that would apply to no more than about 5,000 kids in the five percent worst-performing schools in the state.”
Currently, Williamson County has exactly three representatives and one senator. The General Assembly determines the number of representatives and senators based on population and Johnson said the 2020 census will likely show that Williamson County has grown too large for just one senator.
“We’ll have to carve it up some. We’ll still have three full House districts, but I would say we’ll probably have to bring a House member in to take some of the county and likewise in the senate I’ll have to give up a portion,” he said. “Where that goes? I don’t know … We’ll have to wait and see. But whatever the population is now — well over 200,000 people — I imagine a state Senate district is going to be somewhere around 190,000 to 195,000 and we’ll be well over that.”
In addition to potential changes for school funding, Rep. Sam Whitson said he hopes to make progress on reducing traffic impacts in and around Williamson County. Whitson is on a subcommittee focused on infrastructure.
During the event, he said it will be important to think of ways to reduce traffic without building new roads, such as expanding rural broadband so employees can work from home. That’s an idea he had already expressed at a Williamson Inc. town hall last month.