Thursday, November 16, 2023

Questions remain if Tennessee rejects federal K-12 education funding

 By Jon Styf, The Center Square, Nov. 15, 2023- Tennessee can first ask for a waiver of specific federal requirements before having to go down the path of rejecting federal K-12 education funding, a working group on the topic was told Wednesday morning.

Russell Moore, Director of Tennessee’s Office of Research and Education Accountability, presented information and options to the state’s Joint Working Group on Federal Education Funding on the final day of meetings before the group begins work on a report on the topic due to the Tennessee General Assembly by Jan. 9.

Moore said many of the questions surrounding federal funding requirements and not following those requirements are unanswered because no state has ever done it.

An example was $349.7 million of Title IA funding for low-income families that came to Tennessee in 2023, along with requirements the state produce a comprehensive plan for the funds, follow rigorous academic standards and have an annual state assessments accountability system for school performance that identifies the lowest performing 5% of schools.

Moore said replacing the funding with state dollars isn’t as clear because some parts of education funding come 100% from the state but replacing funding in the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement funding formula requires 70% from the state and a 30% local government funding match.

Moore said which requirements are written into either federal or state law, which are rules approved based upon those laws and which are policy decisions also needs studied. He said a study of the rules and regulations regarding federal funding would be a large endeavor.

Moore said that $109 million in federal grants went directly to local school districts in 2021-22 without going to the state first.

The largest three federal grants in 2023 were $359 million for Title I funding for disadvantaged students, $284 million for child nutrition and $292 million for students with disabilities.

The U.S. Department of Education was on the agenda for a meeting of the committee last week but committee co-chair Jon Lundberg said the department could not attend the meeting but said that they would attempt to answer any submitted questions from the group.

The Department of Education, however, had a different story.

“The U.S. Department of Education was not invited by the working group co-chairs to testify,” the department said in a statement. “However, the department has offered to provide technical assistance to members of the legislature.”

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