Report: Uncertainty if Tennessee rejects federal K-12 education funding

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(The Center Square) – No state has ever rejected federal funding for K-12 education, so when Tennessee looks at potentially doing that in a committee over the next few weeks it would be expensive and uncharted territory, according to a new analysis from nonprofit think tank Sycamore Institute.

“The days of historically large surpluses may be over, but Tennessee likely still has room in the budget to replace federal funding at the expense of other potential investments,” the report said.

The new Federal Education Funding Working Group will meet between Nov. 6-15, digging into the potential impact of rejecting that federal funding and the requirements that go along with it.

Federal funding sent $10.4 billion coming to the state’s schools between 2019 and 2023. The state’s 142 school districts received between $314 and $2,500 per student in federal funds, a previous Sycamore Institute report showed.

Sycamore Institute’s analysis shows many of the federal requirements for the funds match state requirements while the federal requirements add a layer of accountability.

Currently, Tennessee has to adapt when federal requirements change and the federal government is not currently fully funding its commitments. “If Tennessee rejected federal dollars, the state would have to work out many details to ensure a smooth transition for districts,” the report said. “If rejected, much of Tennessee’s federal education funding would probably go to other states.”

While some funding requirements match state requirements, Sycamore Institute found the federal requirements add a costly administrative burden on each state that accepts the funds.

“Many federal requirements could still apply to Tennessee schools even if the state rejected federal K-12 dollars — creating questions that would likely be resolved in court,” the report said.

It also would become uncertain if Tennessee would also lose eligibility for federal aid during recessions and how quickly the state could change its mind and regain federal funding.

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