(The Center Square) – Three Tennessee K-12 school superintendents spoke to a committee looking at rejecting federal funding to the state’s schools Tuesday, with Hawkins County Director of Schools Matt Hixson instead suggesting the state continue to accept the federal funds and use extra funds to help pay for infrastructure needs in the schools.
The group was asked about strings attached to federal funds and said the depth of those strings related to the school lunch program, for instance, is recording how many free meals the schools serve.
Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, started the afternoon discussion saying that “there is no word about cutting any dollar of funding” in the plan but instead spending the same amount on education with the state funding more to replace the potentially rejected federal funding.
Metro Nashville Schools Chief of Staff Hank Clay said the federal funds go to help homeless students, students with disabilities and students who have additional potentially costly educational needs.
Hixson added he would be concerned, if the funds were not earmarked to be spent on those specific students, there could be the thought of spending those funds instead on school infrastructure needs.
The morning session of the meeting was a presentation from Sycamore Institute, which said the state received $1.1 billion in federal funding in the last pre-COVID fiscal year of 2019 and Tennessee would be in uncharted territory if it rejected the funds, though Oklahoma and South Carolina had also discussed the move.
Committee member Rep. William Slater, R-Gallatin, added that Tennessee residents shouldn’t be concerned about the potentially rejected funding because federal civil rights laws would still be followed.
“The constitution provides a floor, not a ceiling, on civil rights,” Slater said.
Sycamore Institute Deputy Director Mandy Spears said Tennessee has enough in its current budget to pay for what the federal government is contributing to education funding but it would have a cost in eliminating some non-recurring projects that had been funded,
“The takeaway here is that the recurring budget is higher than the recurring allocations,” she said.
The United States Department of Education is expected to give a presentation at Wednesday’s meeting along with the National Conference of State Legislators before the group has two more meeting dates scheduled for next week.