Home Education and Careers Outrageous! Knoxville State Representatives Reveal Shocking Stance on Tennessee Federal Education Funding Proposal!

Outrageous! Knoxville State Representatives Reveal Shocking Stance on Tennessee Federal Education Funding Proposal!

Outrageous! Knoxville State Representatives Reveal Shocking Stance on Tennessee Federal Education Funding Proposal!


As Tennessee legislators explore rejecting billions of dollars in federal education funds, Knoxville state senators and representatives are, for the most part, open to hearing more.

Each year, Tennessee receives $1.8 billion in Title 1, IDEA and other federal program funding. That money supports low-income students, students with disabilities and school lunch programs.

State House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, have formed the bipartisan Joint Working Group on Federal Education Funding to explore rejecting the funding. The group, appointed Sept. 25, does not include any Knoxville representation.

The exploratory group has until Jan. 9 to make a recommendation.

Here’s what some of Knoxville’s delegation thinks of the idea.

Sen. Richard Briggs wants an explanation

Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville, told Knox News on Sept. 27 that it’s early on in the process, and he has questions about why the state is considering rejecting funds.

He said the vague reason he’s been told is that there are “federal strings attached,” but it’s unclear what those strings are.

“Tennessee taxpayers have sent their money to Washington, and now it’s time to get our share of our money back,” he said. “I want to know why we’re (considering) not taking it back, but those reasons have not been explained to me at this point.”

Briggs said there hasn’t been a lot of explanation because the legislature won’t be in session until January.

During the 2023 legislative session, Sexton cited federal mandates attached to funding, such as the TCAP, as reasons to reject.

The TCAP is the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program taken by students in grades 3-8. Students are tested in English language, math, social studies and science.

“I do want to commend the speaker, because rather than saying ‘We’re not going to take the money because we don’t like the strings attached,’ they said they would appoint a committee to look at it,” Briggs said.

Briggs said the money Tennessee would lose could be made up by the state’s general fund, and that will be an important question the exploratory group needs to answer.

If the economy falls on hard times, Briggs said, finding funds could be a “serious problem.”

Sen. Becky Massey is interested in how Tennessee could save money

Sen. Becky Duncan Massey, R-Knoxville, told Knox News on Sept. 28 that she thinks the state would benefit from not having to deal with the federal government’s bureaucracy.

“Any time that you’ve got the federal bureaucracy overseeing things, there’s a lot of extra work involved. They can mandate certain things that we as Tennesseans don’t really adhere to.”

She used an example of state staff who file paperwork for federal dollars. “Your staff could be used more effectively doing more with students and people (they’re) serving.”

While she doesn’t serve on the education committee, her background in the special education field is motivating her to “stay on” the inquiry. Before taking public office, she was the executive director of the Sertoma Center, a nonprofit that provides opportunities for people with disabilities.

“I will make sure that if this goes down this path (of rejecting federal funds), that those (special education) services in school systems will not be disrupted, because that’s something that is near and dear to my heart.”

She said the state’s economy could help to make up for the $1.8 billion Tennessee would be passing up.

“We’re one of the best economies in the country,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of people moving to our state … that helps soften any downward turn in the economy.”

Rep. Sam McKenzie thinks rejection is an ‘irresponsible concept’

Rep. Sam McKenzie, D-Knoxville, is opposed to even looking into rejecting federal funds.

“We’re still not meeting what I will consider our responsibility to educate our students,” he told Knox News Sept. 28. “To say that we’re going to turn down the funds because we don’t like some of the things (the federal government says) makes no sense.”

He emphasized that the feds imposing conditions on their funds is nothing new.

His colleagues disagree with him, though. In May, the state announced “historic gains” in third grade reading after the launch of a new literacy strategy.

McKenzie predicted the rejection inquiry “is going to go quiet.”

“They’re going to look at the numbers and look at the risks involved, and the opportunity for us to lose other revenue if we go down this crazy pipeline, and say ‘OK, this was a study, we understand (that federal funds are important) now.'”

Rep. Jason Zachary looks forward to hearing findings

Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville, told Knox News in a text on Sept. 27 that the idea behind the exploratory group is to achieve “complete flexibility in how we spend our education dollars.”

“I support any and all measures we can pursue that will better the education for students in our state,” he said.

Rep. Gloria Johnson says the thought of rejecting funds is ‘terrifying’

State Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, said the state is in no position to make up for rejected federal dollars, because it is struggling to fund education as it is.

In response to some lawmakers’ saying that rejection is due to testing requirements, Johnson said that testing is due to state law.

Johnson is running for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn.

Knoxville Republican Reps. Michele Carringer, Dave Wright and Jeremy Faison did not respond to Knox News’ request for comment. Rep. Justin Lafferty, R-Knoxville, declined to comment.

How much does Tennessee rely on federal education funding?

In 2018-19 fiscal year, Knox County received more than $57 million for K-12 programs. In 2022-23, Knox County got more than $188 million in federal funds for education, a jump of nearly 230%, driven by an influx of emergency funding released during the pandemic.

In the 2021-22 fiscal year, around $2.5 billion flowed into Tennessee’s public schools — up from $1.2 billion in 2018-19, before the pandemic started. Complete education funding data for the 2022-23 fiscal year, which includes the last of the ESSER funds, is not yet available.

Rachel Wegner contributed to this story.

Allie Feinberg reports on politics for Knox News. Email: [email protected]. Follow her on X, formerly known as Twitter: @alliefeinberg.

Areena Arora, data and investigative reporter for Knox News, can be reached by email at [email protected]. Follow her on X, formerly known as Twitter, @AreenaArora.

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