Tennessee Education officials warn of uncertainties in rejecting federal K-12 dollars

During her first formal legislative hearing, Tennessee Education Commissioner Lizzette Reynolds highlighted Tuesday the legal unknowns if state officials choose to reject K-12 education funds and emphasized the role federal dollars play in day-to-day school operations.

Reynolds testified before the Joint Working Group on Federal Education Funding ― her first public appearance since her appointment as commissioner earlier this year.

Tennessee Education officials warn of uncertainties in rejecting federal K-12 dollars

Republican leadership appointed the panel to consider whether Tennessee should reject federal K-12 education funding, and identify objectionable “strings attached” to federal dollars. The group met three days last week, and is expected to conclude public hearings on Wednesday.

During her testimony, Reynolds emphasized the important role federal funds play in daily functions for schools across the state, and indicated uncertainty should the state choose to reject the funding. 

“The issue of accepting or rejecting federal funding is a complicated one, with numerous legal implications and uncertainties,” Reynolds said. “For these reasons, it’s hard to project exactly how decisions would play out if made.”

Tennessee Education Commission Lizzette Reynolds during an August interview.

Reynolds cited Tennessee’s progress in post-pandemic learning loss recovery efforts, growth in literacy rates, and the state’s new student-based funding formula. 

“Understanding how federal funds support and interact with these initiatives will ensure we can continue improving educational and life outcomes for Tennessee students,” she said. 

Federal funds support nearly 1 million students

All 147 local school districts in Tennessee receive at least one federal grant, according to TDOE. Out of the 1,900 public schools in the state, 1,200 implement a Title I program to support economically disadvantaged children.