For all those who clamor for more financial investment in K-12 public education, there is a perfect investment opportunity for you - the Volunteer Public Education Trust.
Imagine an endowment for K-12 public education that generates millions of dollars in investment earnings for use by local school systems to enhance their educational opportunities. Imagine being able to make a personal contribution to an endowment dedicated to K-12 public education. Such a contribution would represent your individual support and commitment to K-12 education, similar to the endowments at the University of Tennessee, Vanderbilt, or University of Memphis.
An endowment like this can exist. And it could be transformational.
In 1985, the Tennessee Legislature created two education endowment funds: The State of Tennessee Volunteer Public Education Trust for supplemental funding of K-12 education and The Tennessee Chairs of Excellence Trust for higher education.
Forty years later the two funds find themselves in dramatically different financial positions. The Volunteer Public Education Trust has earned $85,944 through investments from contributions totaling $123,699. In contrast, there have been contributions totaling $104M to the Chairs of Excellence Trust and it has earned more than $444.1M through investments. The Chairs of Excellence Trust has also been able to provide more than $212 million in funding to enhance higher education in Tennessee.
This staggering difference led Representative Esther Helton and I to redesign the Tennessee Volunteer Public Education Trust. The goal of the redesign was to make the trust fund more attractive to investors interested in endowing supplemental funding for Tennessee’s K-12 public education system.
While the Volunteer Public Education Trust has existed for almost 40 years, it has received very little attention. Few people or businesses are even aware of it.
Over this time The State of Tennessee has appropriated $45.9M for the Chairs of Excellence Trust, but it has given zero dollars, yes, zero, to the Volunteer Public Education Trust.
I think the State of Tennessee can do better. Not only by better prioritizing state investment in the Volunteer Public Education Trust, but it can improve public awareness of the fund.
The new law Representative Helton and I sponsored to redesign the fund is the first step.
Under the new structure the responsibility for the management of the Volunteer Public Education Trust is given to the Tennessee Treasurer’s office, which has an outstanding investment record with funds such as the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System, the Tennessee Promise Endowment Trust, and other investment instruments.
Additionally, the measure seeks to attract more donors by creating subaccounts where money can be earmarked so donors can give to a specific school or project. Earmarking funds for specific projects is one of the main reasons the Chairs of Excellence Fund has been highly successful. And finally, the new law expands the pool of donors and creates an endowment where the interest can be used to assist with improvements or projects outside a school’s normal funding stream.
These enhancements give donors more control over their contributions and improve the management of the fund.
The Volunteer Public Education Trust is now ready for contributions from individuals, businesses and corporations that will transform the way we fund public education in Tennessee.
If you’re an individual looking to make a charitable contribution or you’re a business or corporation considering investing in Tennessee’s public education system, I suggest The Volunteer Public Education Trust.
Information is available online at https://treasury.tn.gov/Investments/Investment-Management/Volunteer-Public-Education-Trust or contact the Tennessee Treasurer’s Office at (615) 532-8091.
Senator Bo Watson