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Tennessee GOP looking to reject millions of dollars in aid

Tennessee would be the first state to do this depending on the panel's findings. To date no state has ever rejected federal funding for its students.
Tennessee GOP looking to reject millions of dollars in aid
Posted at 2:40 PM, Oct 27, 2023

Republican lawmakers in Tennessee say they want to free the state's schools of cumbersome federal rules and regulations by rejecting federal education funds for K-12.

Education advocates worry schools will suffer. A newly created GOP-dominated panel will examine the nearly $1.8 billion in federal education funds next month, the majority of which caters to low-income students, English learners and students with disabilities.

"I just think it's such a complicated thing to undertake and not to be taken lightly," said Gini Pupo-Walker, the executive director at the Education Trust in Tennessee.

If the state rejects federal education dollars, the funding would be replaced with state dollars. However, questions remain about whether the state can foot the bill.

"How do we know that they have the capacity, the wherewithal to redirect that way and maintain that level of funding if something, God forbid, were to happen with the economy?" said Pupo-Walker.

Republican State House Speaker Cameron Sexton proposed the idea earlier this year before creating the legislative panel.

He also asked the Tennessee Department of Education to draft a report that outlines how federal funding is used and under what requirements.

Republicans in many states have long discussed abolishing the U.S. Department of Education, arguing the department has no reason to exist.

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"The monies that are coming from us as taxpayers and going to the federal government to be redistributed. If they're going to be redistributed with strings on them, our elected officials should be the ones determining the strings, not bureaucrats," said Republican Rep. John Ragan.

Senate Minority Leader Raumesh Akbari, just one of two Democrats on the 10-member panel, said while she is open to hearing what is presented during the meetings, rejecting federal funding would hurt the people of Tennessee.

"Regardless of if we accept the funds or not, we are still required to provide those services. So it just to me is not the best move for Tennessee and certainly for our tax dollars," said Akbari. 

Tennessee's Republican governor, Bill Lee, said he's curious to see what the panel finds.

"There's a commitment in this state to make sure that our kids get what they need, that they're served appropriately. And however those dollars serve kids where it's necessary and where it's needed will be committed to that," said Lee. 

One of the education programs funded by federal funds is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, which helps students with disabilities.

Jeff Strand with the Tennessee Disability Coalition said rejecting funds could possibly eliminate two key components vital to families.

"Without IDEA, we lose all of that accountability, all of that oversight from the feds," said Strand. "And without due process and procedural safeguards, there's no opportunity for redress for parents and families who feel like they're not getting the supports and services for their child that they need. And there is no guarantee that they can even be involved in planning for their child."

The panels first meeting is scheduled for Nov. 6. 


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