JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Local lawmakers say Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton’s proposal to reject federal education funding is worth exploring, while education advocates say it’s a short-sighted suggestion.
Tanya Coats, president of the Tennessee Education Association, told News Channel 11 that the state should take any money it can get.
“We need every dollar that we could possibly get,” Coats said.
The state expects to receive about $1.8 billion from the federal government for K-12 education in the 2023-24 fiscal year. That’s about 20% of the estimated $8.9 billion education budget.
Federal funding flows through the state into local school districts to provide for programs targeted at low-income, special needs and students with disabilities. Among the most well-known federally funded education programs are free school meals and Title I grants, which allocate funding for schools with 40% or more students qualifying as low-income.
Some lawmakers say the state can handle the cost.
“We have extra billions of dollars in our budget. We can do it,” Sen. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) told News Channel 11.
Like Sexton, Rep. David Hawk (R-Greenville) said replacing federal funds with state monies will free the state from federal requirements.
“We can do a Tennessee-centric plan on education and not worry about what the feds dictate,” Hawk said.
Lundberg, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said he wants to explore the benefits and burdens of accepting federal money.
“I’m not dismissing that that’s a lot of money,” Lundberg said. “But what kind of strings are attached to that? And what do we have to do reporting-wise and everything else to comply to receive those funds?”
Coats said rejecting federal money due to a surplus is shortsighted.
“If it’s offered to us, we should take it for our students in the state of Tennessee for the best, and do what’s best for them,” Coats said.