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Report: Tennessee student and teacher spending rose, so did education debt

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(The Center Square) – Tennessee schools saw an 18.4% increase in inflation-adjusted per student funding between 2002 and 2020, according to a new report.

Spending on employee benefits increased by 56.5% over the same period, according to Reason Foundation’s Education Spending Across 50 States report.

Tennessee spent $1,992 per student on employee benefits in 2020 compared to $1,273 in 2002.

The state has $6.2 billion in total education debt, up $1,125 per student since 2002, according to the report.

The state’s student enrollment grew 9.7% over the period while total public education staff increased by 20.8% with an 11.0% increase in teachers and 31.6% increase in non-teachers.

The inflation-adjusted teacher salary in the state dropped 6.7% over the period from $55,616 in 2002 to $51,862 in 2020.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has since signed into law an incremental minimum teacher pay increase from current $42,000 to $50,000 for the 2026-27 school year.

From 2003 to 2019, the state’s fourth-grade reading scores went up 7 points and eighth-grade reading scores went up 4 points in the NAEP Nation’s Report Card while the math scores went up 12 points in fourth grade and 12 points for eighth-graders.

Low-income students in the state saw their scores go up 4 points in fourth-grade reading and 3 points in eighth grade over the span while low-income students’ math scores went up 10 points in fourth-grade math and rose by 13 points in eighth grade.