NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Tuesday, lawmakers heard presentations from both local district leaders and the Sycamore Institute, a self-proclaimed nonpartisan think tank.
The Institute helps construct the budget every year. Its presentation Tuesday detailed 11 key takeaways, but none more concise than its seventh.
“The days of historically large surpluses may be over, but Tennessee likely still has room in the budget to replace federal funding but at the expense of other potential investments,” Deputy Director Mandy Spears said.
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It’s a takeaway that essentially sums up the entire debate.
Tennessee probably could cover a gap if it chooses to deny federal education funding, but it would have to move money around from other programs to do so, leaving Democrats wondering why the state would choose to do so.
“What I’ve learned is that really and truly, this is wasting our time,” Rep. Ronnie Glynn (D-Clarksville) said.
But Republicans say the look is worth it.
“People think, ‘Oh this is it, we’re cutting a billion dollars.’ We’re not. We’re not cutting education,” Sen. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) said. “We’re not cutting a dollar. We’re doing our fiduciary diligence.”
The Sycamore report showed Tennessee schools vary in how much federal funding they use. But typically, rural districts with high concentrations of low-income and students with disabilities tended to use more federal funding.
“These dollars have allowed us to supplement where we wouldn’t have been able to provide the support the families and students need to improve,” Jackson-Madison County Schools Superintendent Dr. Marlon King said.
Democrats have continuously questioned what caveats come with the federal funding.
“What are the strings?” House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) said. “Providing services to special needs children? Addressing the needs of homeless and lower-income children? Making sure children have nutritious meals?”
The Sycamore Institute also reported that even if Tennessee denied federal funding, many of the potential ‘strings’ attached might still apply, though they may end up in a potential court battle.
“I want to get down to, when you talk about this $100 million program from the federal government or this million dollar program, I want to get to the point where, ‘Here’s where it costs at the local level, at the regional level and at the state level to comply with that,” Lundberg said.
The think tank did point out, the federal government hasn’t always fully funded its commitments.