November 17, 2023 8:00am

Q: Should Tennessee reject federal funds for K-12?

A: No, say most Memphis Power Poll respondents

Photo of David Waters
Memphis, TN Correspondent

Tennessee's legislative leaders failed the Memphis Power Poll test this month.

More than 8 in 10 Power Poll respondents rejected an idea -- now being studied by legislators -- of rejecting all federal funds for K-12 education.

No state has ever done that. More than 80 percent of Power Poll respondents say Tennessee should not be the first.

Three in four Power Poll respondents disagree with House Speaker Cameron Sexton's premise that rejecting federal funds would free Tennessee from “federal government interference” in K-12 public education.

And nearly two in three respondents agree with state Sen. Heidi Campbell (D), who says rejecting federal funds would allow Republicans "to privatize our entire public education system, which is the ultimate goal.”

A legislative panel formed by House and Senate Republican leaders met earlier this week to discuss the idea. The panel will report its findings to the legislatue no later than Jan. 9.

As Chalkbeat reported, the panel, composed of eight Republicans and two Democrats, isn’t allowing public testimony about how federally funded programs are run or how they affect children.

Tennessee regularly receives about $1.1 billion in federal funds for schools. That's about 11 percent of all revenues for the state's K-12 schools. (In 2022, one-time Covid relief funds pushed the total to $5.3 billion.)

About 90 percent of those funds are generated by federal programs that provide extra and specialized instructional support for low-income students and special needs students, and nutrition programs that subsidize free breakfasts and lunches for low-income students.

State officials say 148 Tennessee school districts receive one or more federal grants. The funds help an estimated 152,000 students who are considered economically disadvantaged, about 129,000 students who receive special education services, and more than 66,000 students who are learning the English language, according to Chalkbeat.

Sexton and other Republican leaders say they believe Tennessee would be able to replace the federal funding with state funds.

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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