(The Center Square) – As members of a committee sit down to analyze the impact of federal funding on Tennessee’s K-12 schools, they will be diving in depth into numbers that include more than just funding totals.
They will also be looking at the documentation requirements and costs that go with that funding and also the restrictions the state must follow to accept it.
The new Federal Education Funding Working Group will meet between Nov. 6-15.
A Tennessee Department of Education report created in February on House Speaker Cameron Sexton’s request breaks down all of the federal grants Tennessee schools received between 2019 and 2023 along with the requirements that followed the funding.
Funding from the Every Student Succeeds Act, for instance, including a requirement that states submit a plan describing how funds will be utilized and how certain requirements will be met.
The state is required to send specific reports on how funding from at least 23 separate grant programs is spent.
The funding comes in different forms and sizes and significantly fluctuates year to year, especially with additional COVID-related funding in recent years.
Tennessee received nearly $24 million in one-time grants in 2019, $151 million in 2020, then $548 million in 2021 and $3.9 billion in 2022. Including the $4.3 million already in 2023 at the time of the report, that amounted to $4.6 billion in one-time grants over the span.
Entitlement grants for items such as nutrition, head start, low income and state assessments were more consistent over the span with $1.1 billion in 2019, $979 million in 2020, $1.2 billion in 2021, $1.4 billion in 2022 and $1.1 billion in 2023.
In all, Tennessee has received $10.4 billion in federal education funding since 2019.
The distribution of federal funding also has a wide range across the state as districts received an average of $7.9 million in funding led by Shelby County schools receiving $192.5 million. Single-school Richland City Special School District in Marion County received the least at $311,000.
Tennessee Senate Finance Chair Bo Watson said it doesn’t hurt to examine the spending but it’s important to keep the funding source in proper context, Tennessee Lookout reported.
“But what everyone needs to understand is that federal tax dollars that come back to Tennessee are Tennessee taxpayer dollars, and so if you elect not to take those dollars, which we could do, you have to realize you’re sending that money somewhere else, and that’s Tennesseans’ tax dollars,” Watson told Lookout.
A spokesperson from the U.S. Department of Education told The Associated Press earlier this year that students need more funding, not less, to combat the youth mental health crisis.
“This political posturing will impede the basic education of young people throughout the entire K-12 school system and limit opportunities — particularly for students most in need — to access tutoring and academic support, afterschool and summer programs, school counselors, mental health professionals, and other assistance,” the spokesperson said in a statement.