KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) — Monday, Tennessee’s leading Republicans announced a working group to investigate whether the state should reject federal K-12 education dollars.
Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton appointed Bristol state Sen. Jon Lundberg to chair the working group now tasked with considering the possibility.
Lundberg told News Channel 11 Friday questions should be answered about what federal funding provides and what strings are attached to the roughly $1.8 billion the state government funnels from national sources into local districts.
“What do we get out of that?” Lundberg said. “What would happen if we did not have that? Would we able to maintain services or increase them removing administrative burdens from localities? I don’t know.”
But, if lawmakers have questions about what federal funds enable and what strings are required, local federal programs coordinators like Lamar Smith have answers.
Smith, who serves as supervisor of federal programs for Kingsport City Schools, told News Channel 11 that federal funding largely funds services for disadvantaged students.
“They already have the debt stacked against them, for lack of a better term, so that money really goes to help even the playing field,” Smith said. “(A loss of funding) would really cause some damaging effects.”
Seven Kingsport schools qualify for additional funding through Title I due to the percentage of economically disadvantaged students. Smith said the salaries of more than 26 employees are funded by federal monies, not including special education teachers.
Smith said Kingsport receives about $7 million per year from federal sources, accounting for about 10% of the district’s total budget.
That’s about on par with the state, which funds around $1.7 billion of its $15 million education budget with federal dollars.
Lundberg said with that much money on the table, it’s worth investigating the cost of compliance with federal standards.
“Frankly, I hope the federal government listens and learns that we’re getting very specific about what we’re getting for our investment,” Lundberg said. “I say that for our investment because as taxpayers, every one of us pays that bill.”
Smith said the strings attached to federal funding can be frustrating, but they mostly amount to paperwork.
“It is record keeping, notes, making sure that you have sign-in sheets for meetings,” Smith said. “It’s just a lot of transparency showing that you’re doing what you say you’re doing and that you can back that up when the people come in to look at your records.”
For Smith, the programs funded are well worth the effort.
He has a simple request for the working group: “Keep students in mind as they’re doing these deliberations and doing their fact-finding, because that’s what at the end of the day is important.”
No meetings have been scheduled for the committee.