State officials want to reject federal funding, educate students ‘the Tennessee way’

State lawmakers propose to reject federal funding for K-12 education.
State lawmakers propose to reject federal funding for K-12 education.
Published: Feb. 14, 2023 at 7:25 PM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - State Representative Cameron Sexton proposed that Tennessee rejects the federal funding it receives for public schools.

The state gets around $1.8 billion of federal kindergarten through 12th-grade funding, which makes up 20% of the education budg et.

This money is usually used to provide support for low-income students and schools, English learners and students with disabilities. No state has ever successfully rejected funds for education from the federal government.

Sexton released a statement addressing why he wanted to do this.

“We are looking at every available option to improve education, like cutting red tape and getting burdensome federal overreach out of the classroom so teachers and parents can make decisions regarding their children’s education. But the Washington education regime is afraid of freedom, hates states’ rights, and knows that us rejecting federal money for overbearing policies like common core will ultimately lead to a total demise of their bureaucratic big brother approach,” Sexton said in a release.

According to Sexton, Tennessee is in the best shape financially to use state tax dollars to replace the government’s education money. Gov. Bill Lee’s new budget this year, Sexton said, is proof of that.

“Tennessee will have the freedom and autonomy to educate our students the Tennessee way,” Sexton’s representatives said.

Tennessee K-12 education funding had a nearly $8.3 billion budget as of 2023. Federal funds make up a small piece of the money.

However, the money from the government is seen as a crucial piece to supporting low-income schools and special education. State Rep. Gloria Johnson, who was also a former special education teacher in Tennessee, is shocked by this proposal.

“It’s terrifying to me cause they’re saying they will replace it with state dollars, but they’ve yet to do that in our already underfunded education,” said Rep. Johnson.

Sexton said he wanted to reject the funds due to excessive testing and government restrictions, but Johnson said the state sets its own curriculum.

“Our testing situation is not a result of the federal government; our testing situation is based on state laws. All over, testing is state laws. The feds just require us to do an end-of-the-year test, third through eighth grade, and once in high school,” said Johnson.

Jennifer Rose Holder, a mother whose son is in special education programs in Tennessee, said she believed they shouldn’t reject the funds but should use the money to better these programs in place that are already struggling, like special education.

She worries if the state stops accepting government money for schools then there would be no one to monitor where the money is being spent.

“The low-income and the special education programs are what we have to fight for. We’ve got those federal laws and regulations in place that back us and protect our children and gives them the education that they deserve,” said Holder.

While the U.S. Constitution says public education is the responsibility of the state, states still have to follow rules in place required by the federal government. It is unclear if Tennessee would have fewer conflicts with the government if they forgo federal funds.

This is a proposal, and nothing has been decided or voted on yet. Officials said they are working on drafting the Bill.