NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Tennessee could reject nearly $2 billion in federal education funding.
A task force with members from both the House and Senate is meeting Monday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. in the Cordell Hull building to start discussing the possibility. Click here to watch.
State leaders have said previously they want education funding “without any strings attached.”
House Speaker Cameron Sexton said he believes Tennessee would be able to replace the federal funding with state dollars.
Sexton introduced a bill to explore the idea during the previous legislative session.
“Basically, we’ll be able to educate the kids how Tennessee sees fit,” Sexton said, pointing that rejecting the money would mean that Tennessee would no longer have “federal government interference.”
Federal dollars make up a small slice of Tennessee’s K-12 education funding, which had an almost $8.3 billion budget as of fiscal year 2023. Yet the federal money is seen as a key tool to supporting schools in low-income areas and special education.
“These policies are hurting Tennesseans across our state,” Rep. Bob Freeman (D-Nashville) said. “It’s like it just falls on deaf ears. It just doesn’t make sense. I continue to hear that they want to make sure that we don’t have the strings attached to the funding. When I’ve asked what the strings are, I’ve gotten nothing but crickets.”
In Wilson County, the federal education dollars help fund special education, teacher salaries, ROTC, and reduced lunches cost.
If Republican leadership pushes the concept forward, Tennesseans potentially wouldn’t reap the benefit of some of the federal taxes they pay. The state would also be the first to successfully do so. The idea has also come up elsewhere in recent months among GOP officials, including in Oklahoma and South Carolina.
The U.S. Constitution says public education is a state responsibility though states are still required to follow federal laws.
*The Associated Press contributed to this report.