As the legislative Joint Working Group on Federal Education Funding continues debating whether Tennessee should reject federal ed dollars, data shows thar some counties—including Perry—are more dependent on that funding than others.
According to the Tennessee Department of Education, Perry County Schools received $1,735,783 in federal funding in 2019, pre-Covid, or 15.4% of the district’s total budget.
In 2022, that amount jumped to $3,964,297, or 26.9% of the budget. See the accompanying chart which also shows state and local revenue contributions to the Perry County Schools budget and recent changes in percentages.
Perry, according to Tennessee Lookout, is among the list of counties receiving the highest amount of federal funds as a percentage of its operating budget.
The option of rejecting federal monies, which totals $1.8 billion statewide, was introduced by House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally who appointed the working group to hold hearings to determine if and should the state refuse the funding and use state funds to make up the shortfall.
McNally and Sexton have questioned the stipulations the federal government places on how the money is spent as a condition of its appropriation.
Senator Joe Lundberg, co-chair if the specially-appointed committee, has said publicly that he does not think Tennessee will turn away the funds.
“My expectation is that we’re not going to say no to federal funds. We’re not going to kick more than a billion dollars back to the U.S. government,” Lundberg told reporters.
Lundberg also said he expects the committee’s work to continue “well into 2024,″and that members want information from the U.S. Department of Education about rules and regulations tied to accepting the federal monies.
That means the committee’s work may not be wrapped up before the legislature returns to session on January 9 of next year.
Tennessee’s share of federal education funding more than doubled during the pandemic—from $1.2 billion in 2018-2019 to $2.5 billion in 2021-2022 (the most recent figures available).
The ten-member working group was appointed in September, and held two weeks of hearings before Thanksgiving.
In addition to Republican co-chair Lundberg, the Senate is represented by GOP members Joey Hensley, Bill Powers, and Dawn White, along with Democrat Raumesh Akbari.
The House members on the working group are Democrat Ronnie Glynn and Republicans John Ragan, Timothy Hill, William Slater, and co-chair Debra Moody.
According to The Tennessean, “If the working group recommends rejecting the funds and lawmakers act on it, it would be a move unprecedented in United States history.”