Sunday, October 15, 2023

Tennessee legislators to look into rejecting federal school funding in November

By Jon Styf | The Center Square, Oct 12, 2023 - With additional COVID-19 federal K-12 school funding winding down, Tennessee continues its look at what school funding would look like without federal dollars, which amounted to $10.4 billion coming to the state’s schools between 2019 and 2023.

Between Nov. 6-15, a new Federal Education Funding Working Group will look at what it would take for Tennessee to fund schools outside of federal requirements and federal funds.

That includes $5.8 billion in federal entitlement grants over that timeframe, along with $4.6 billion in one-time federal grants to Tennessee schools, according to a Tennessee Department of Education report filed at the request of Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton.

“Any time the federal government sends money, there are always strings attached to those dollars, and there is always a possibility that it opens the state up to other regulations or restrictions,” Sexton said in a statement while announcing the new working group.

The state’s website has a tool to look at county-by-county spending across the state that shows $2.2 billion was spent on education in Shelby County, for instance, in the 2022-23 fiscal year.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau and National Center for Education Statistics shows Tennessee currently funds its schools with $11,600 per student, ranking it ahead of just six other states and below the national average of $13.187 from the most recently available data from 2018-19.

A study from the Sycamore Institute showed that in 2019, before the COVID-19 increases in funding, $1.1 billion was sent to Tennessee schools with the state’s 142 school districts receiving between $314 and $2,500 per student in federal funds.

The bulk of those funds went to rural districts with more low-income and disabled students that were judged to have less local revenue capacity and lower English Language Arts test scores.

Districts received an average of $7.9 million in funding with Shelby County schools receiving $192.5 million on the high end and the single-school Richland City Special School District in Marion County receiving $311,000.

“Through this committee, I will advocate that Tennessee keep accepting these necessary funds,” Sen. Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis, said in a statement about the committee. “After all, our tax dollars should be used to support Tennessee students, not students in other states.”

I Welcome the Study. Let us see what it Shows

Comments by Rod Williams, Oct. 15, 2023- I welcome the study.  While it is a fact federal dollars have strings attached, I hope to see specifics. The study committee should provide a clear list of the onerous federal regulations imposed on Tennessee schools.  The study needs to provide a clear cost-benefit analysis. The benefit of rejecting the money must clearly outweigh the cost of rejecting the money before I could support rejecting it. I look forward to learning more about the onerous mandates.  

If the mandates are things to do with what must be taught, I want to know that the mandate really is offensive. If it has to do with the rights of trans students or gay students, I want to know what the mandate is and how often it actually forces a local school board to do something they would not otherwise do. If a mandate requires a school to spend additional dollars to comply, what is the net benefit of receiving the federal dollars?

I approve of the study. I hope it is a quality one. With federal dollars making up on average of 11% of school budgets across the state and with Tennessee being seventh from the bottom in a ranking of states in the amount spent per student for education, I have to sold on rejecting those Federal dollars.  Let us see what the study shows. 

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