State warns MNPS of delay of future aid, citing 'significant issues' with use of federal funds

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Posted at 5:38 PM, Jan 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-25 18:47:21-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The state is warning Metro Nashville Public Schools officials of a possible future delay in aid if the district doesn't quickly account for as much as $110 million in federal grants.

Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn informed Metro Schools Director Adrienne Battle of the "significant issues in the use, drawn amounts, and oversight of federal grant funds," in a letter on Monday.

Schwinn says there is a "real concern that schools are not getting the supports needed for teachers and students, including students with disabilities," due to grants and federal funding not being used - some of which Schwinn says are available balances that have not been drawn down since last summer.

"I cannot underscore enough the seriousness of the current financial management of federal funds and compliance issues in MNPS. It is imperative that these issues be resolved quickly, accurately, and comprehensively, so as to provide students with the resources that they need and to move the district to a space of compliance with federal and state law." the letter states.

According to the letter, the state will delay the disbursement of pending federal grants if the district does not take corrective action.

Among the actions requested by the state, MNPS must request reimbursements for funds through several of the available grants, provide a corrective action plan to the state, and address and remedy audit findings.

Metro Schools spokesperson Sean Braisted released the following statement in response to the letter:

Metro Schools utilizes grant funding to provide desperately needed resources and support to our students. This year MNPS has invested tens of millions of dollars in resources to support the needs of our students, including and especially those with exceptional needs, in both the virtual and in-person learning environments.

In a letter today from Commissioner Schwinn, it was insinuated that MNPS had significant unspent resources in the form of federal grant funding. To be clear, there is not a pot of unspent money. There is a large distinction between drawing down funds through a formal process and allocating and spending funds to support the needs of our students and staff. Metro Schools leverages its funding, in compliance with state and federal laws, to maximize the resources and supports available to students. To suggest otherwise, is false.

We were told that the district would be provided adequate time to respond, however, it appears that the media received the letter a few hours after MNPS. We would disagree with much of the posturing in the letter and look forward to providing a more comprehensive response in the coming days and weeks. We hope this is a simple misunderstanding that can be addressed in the weeks to come and is not motivated by opinions related to the district’s decision making about in-person learning.