Republican Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton has proposed a bill to reject nearly $1.8 billion in federal K-12 education funds. The funds currently support low-income students, English learners, and students with disabilities. Sexton believes that rejecting the funds will give Tennessee more autonomy in educating its students, free from federal government interference. He stated that Tennessee is financially capable of replacing the federal funds with state tax dollars. While the federal funds account for a small portion of Tennessee’s K-12 education funding, they are essential in supporting schools in low-income areas and special education.
Sexton’s proposal has received mixed reactions from lawmakers. Democratic Rep. Bo Mitchell expressed concern about students’ rights, particularly low-income students and those with disabilities. On the other hand, Republican lawmakers and Governor Bill Lee’s spokesperson, Jade Byers, have shown openness to the proposal, claiming that it would allow Tennessee to offer high-quality education. Sexton’s proposal aligns with Republican politicians’ and candidates’ calls to eliminate the US Department of Education.
Advocates for public education have often used various federal funds that Tennessee receives as grounds to block or challenge various school-related bans, as Republican lawmakers have become more skeptical and combative over what is taught inside public classrooms. These conflicts have resulted in state and federal education officials often being at odds with each other. It is unclear whether Tennessee would have fewer conflicts with the federal government if the state chose to forgo the education funding since states are still required to follow federal laws.