NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Tennessee is taking a serious look at declining federal education money, saying it comes with too many strings attached.
“The federal government was set up by the states,” Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) said. “The states are the parents, not the federal government. We should do everything that we can to be whole and autonomous and independent from the federal government.”
Democrats have branded the move as another step away from the funding of public schools.
“Anyway they’re going to pitch this is just simply window dressing,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) said. “They can make it sound as common sense as they can try, but at the end of the day, it’s all about undermining our public schools.”
Gov. Bill Lee (R-Tennessee) didn’t commit to whether he’d support the potential rejection.
Instead, he actually somewhat distanced himself from Sexton’s and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally’s decision, reiterating twice that the decision came from the General Assembly.
“It’s a task force working group that the General Assembly’s putting together,” Lee said.
“The Speakers put together this group,” Lee said again, later on.
However, the governor did say he wants to at least have the discussion.
“The federal government has had excessive overreach time and time again over the last few years,” Lee said.
With all the talk over the last few months around rejection of federal funding – you may remember Tennessee declined federal funding to fight HIV earlier this year – it raised a question of whether the state is trying to become “too” independent.
“Is this the first move toward secession?” Tennessee Lookout reporter Sam Stockard asked Sexton.
“That’s a whole different conversation. This is all about money, about philosophy, and about the strings that are attached, right?” Sexton said. “Can all the states do this? I don’t know, but Tennessee’s not the only one looking at this.”
When the reporter followed up, Sexton did indicate he didn’t think the move was secessionary.
“Sam, once you’re talking about something that it’s not, that’s your opinion. That’s not my opinion,” he said. “But you know, you can write what you want to write.”