NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Republicans in leadership proposed Wednesday rejecting federal funding when it comes to Tennessee schools.
As of now, Tennessee receives $1.8 billion in federal funding for grades K-12, which is about $1,172 per student. Tennessee would become the first state to reject federal school money in the nation.
"As we all know, strings are always attached — like excessive testing — when the federal government sends us money," said Doug Kufner, House Speaker Cameron Sexton's spokesperson. "The speaker is considering using state funds to replace federal dollars to fund education in our state, meaning no federal stipulations. Now, Tennessee will have the freedom and autonomy to educate our students the Tennessee way.”
Sexton didn't indicate where those funds would come from. In the speaker's district — which represents Cumberland and parts of Putnam Counties — his school districts receive $4.9 million collectively in a type of federal funding called Title I. Title I funding is given to school districts based on free and reduced lunch data, which represents students coming from low-income families.
In Title I funding across Tennessee, school districts took in $326 million, according to 2020 data from the U.S. Department of Education. Middle Tennessee takes a large chunk of that $114 million. Metro Nashville Public Schools took the biggest piece of that money in 2020, coming in at $44 million. MNPS doesn't comment on pending legislation.
Lt. Governor Randy McNally — whose district covers Anderson, Knox and Loudon counties — took in $18.1 million in Title I federal funding alone. His office said he agreed with Speaker Sexton's direction to potentially let go of federal funding dollars. Tennessee ranks No. 43 in spending and No. 45 in funding schools, according to data from the Education Data Initiative.
On average, Tennessee spends a little under $10,000 per student, according to data from the state. State and local funding breaks down to about a 60/40 split, with the state edging out local government contributions.
"Lt. Gov. McNally agrees with Speaker Sexton that various federal mandates in the area of education can be overly burdensome," a spokesperson from McNally's office said. "Guidance regarding allowable uses for the money is often unclear, confusing and contradictory. Lt. Gov. McNally thinks a discussion about forgoing this money, a relatively small part of overall education funding, in order to maintain more control over how we educate our Tennessee students is a constructive conversation to have."
Gov. Lee's office said he hadn't received concrete details of the proposed legislation, which would edge out federal funds.
“Although we haven’t seen the details of the legislation yet, the governor is always interested in working with the Speaker to ensure Tennessee students have the best access to a high-quality education," the governor's office told NewsChannel 5 Wednesday afternoon.
Chris Davis contributed to this report.