Tennessee lawmakers are looking at rejecting federal dollars for public education and replacing them with state dollars in a move that would make Tennessee the first in the nation to turn down federal education funding.
Republican leadership in the state announced the formation of a panel to look at the impact of federal education funding in Tennessee and the “strings” that can come attached with that funding.
“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,” said Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton. “This working group will help provide a clearer picture of how much autonomy Tennessee truly has in educating our students.”
Sexton announced on Monday the formation of a 10-member Joint Working Group to look at whether the state can fund education without utilizing federal funds. The panel, which will have members of both the state House and Senate, will have eight Republicans and two Democrats.
“The education of our youth is one of the essential responsibilities of our government,” said Lt. Gov. Randy McNally. “Federal dollars and the various mandates and restrictions that come with those dollars affect the way Tennessee’s children are educated. Due to our state’s excellent financial position, this is a worthy subject of examination and study.”
Sexton previously discussed turning down $1.8 billion in federal education funding during the last regular legislative session, but the proposal never ended up advancing.
“We as a state can lead the nation once again in telling the federal government that they can keep their money and we’ll just do things the Tennessee way,” Sexton said earlier this year. “And that should start, first and foremost, with the Department of Education.”
Democrats in Tennessee oppose the move, with state Senator Raumesh Akbari claiming that there would be “harsh consequences” if Tennessee rejected federal funding.
“Federal funds are crucial in supporting students with special needs, English language learners, and those from low-income families,” Akbari said. “Through this committee, I will advocate that Tennessee keep accepting these necessary funds.”
Tennessee has established itself as one of the more conservative states in the country, moving to ban sex change procedures on minors, moving to protect children from sexually explicit performances, and overwhelmingly rejecting proposed “red flag” legislation in the past year despite heavy pressure from Left-wing activist groups.