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Tennessee turning down federal monies for education

by William T. Robinson, Jr
William T. Robinson, Jr.

The Tennessee super majority Republican legislature is contemplating whether to accept or turn down approximately $1.8 billion from the federal government that would be allocated toward K-12 education. It is the public’s understanding that these funds have stringent regulations that our state legislatures are unwilling to abide by. The funding accounts for what is said to be 10% of the states budgeted money appropriated for education.

The state is advocating making up the difference using state dollars. Therefore, it is worth noting that approximately 52.3% of Tennessee’s total educational funds comes from the property tax. Therefore, the public’s opinion should be considered a serious factor in this fight.

As it stands at this time, Tennessee is the only state seeking to reject federal educational funds. These are monies all the others states are willingly to accept by adhering to the mandates required by the federal government. If the measure to reject the money is approved by the state’s General Assembly and Senate, then signed by the governor, it would make Tennessee the first state to reject money from the United States Department of Education.

The movement to reject these funds seems to be spearheaded by Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally who formed a 10-member task force to study the feasibility of replacing educational grant money with existing funds in the state budget. The major argument is that the state has a problem accepting federal educational money with strings attached concerning how it is to be used. However, after two weeks no one seems to be clear or able to state what stringent mandates required to receive government educational funds they see as problematic. 

There is speculation by some that this is a political ploy motivated by Tennessee conservative Republicans advocating for the end of the Department of Education, criticizing the Biden administration’s efforts to specifically protect the LGBTQ student population under the Federal Anti discrimination Law Title IX. It is an egregious part of politics when politicians claim they are against something but cannot legitimately tell you why.

Refusing to accept much needed funds for essential programs benefiting those underserved and less fortunate for personal, political reasons seems unethical and deplorable. Maybe that’s how politics works, but you have a large population of Tennesseans very unhappy with legislators whom they don’t see as working in the best interests of Tennesseans as a whole.

Why would you deprive your state of millions or billions of dollars specifically used to help fund vital educational needs? Federal educational monies are used to provide school lunches, and help students from low-income families. The funds provide for students with disabilities, teacher’s professional development, English learners, as well as advance technical education programs. Federal education grant monies are also used to support after school and summer programs, as well as rural schools and charter schools.

While the federal grant monies only cover 10% of the state’s educational budget, are our state coffers overflowing to the point that it is no problem covering the loss of these funds? They are saying we have the funds, but they are to be used for future state potential investments. If this money is not available, would the state and local government make up the loss by increases in public business revenues and property taxes? One cannot dismiss refusing federal educational monies as being an egotistical power move by some of Tennessee’s lawmakers.

The Tennessee super majority Republican legislature’s hesitancy to state what they see as the ‘strings’ tied to federal educational funds, makes them appear suspicious and disingenuous. If these mandates were so contentious, wouldn’t you think other states would be onboard with Tennessee in looking to deny these federal funds? One has the right to disagree with the mandates on federal educational funds, but they are necessary to promote equity and proficiency.

Unbeknown to many citizens, the Constitution doesn’t specifically mention education; therefore, the Tenth Amendment reserved that right to the states, not the federal government. Definitively, then, states and local governments are responsible for operating our nation’s public-school systems. They support and maintain education. But that makes them open to error, if the truth be told.

Funds from the federal government only helps subsidize or assist states in helping meet their educational responsibilities. It is not mandatory but should be seen as a welcomed blessing. The state of Tennessee turning down federal education money because of the mandates attached is suspect, to say the least.

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