Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton

By Rosetta Miller-Perry 

In another blatant vicious act of  racism and cowardice,  some white Tennessee Republicans are considering leaving federal dollars meant for Tennessee students on the table all because these children are not white.  Remember there are 50 states and the District of Columbia and Tennessee ranks shamefully #48!  The Volunteer State is one of 15 states with the lowest graduation rates at 87%, again we rank shamefully 48 out of 50.  

Why do some Republicans hate Tennessee students of color so much that they would reject federal dollars?  Do they not have children, nieces, nephews, grandchildren who will also be affected?  How about their church members children, country club members and lodge members?

It should come as no surprise for all intelligent Tennesseans that this move means “The Volunteer State” would have the most damaging effects on low-income (white, black, brown, red, yellow) and every other minority community by white racist politicians. 

The ultimate measure of a republican or democrat is not where s/he stands as a politician in moments of comfort and convenience, but where s/he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

To hear state GOP leaders tell it, taking federal money leads to Big Brother dictating how and what our children are taught, but they know they are lying. The local government, all under Republican control right now, has been lying for years and continue today! 

As of now, Tennessee receives $1.8 billion in federal funding for grades K-12.

And it’s a bit hypocritical coming from a party that’s been on the side of book-banning, going into hysterical pearl-clutching behavior at the slightest mention of race or sexuality in the classroom. They’ve even written (and passed) laws that seek to censor students and teachers who tread outside their accepted white  racist conservative norms.

When President Obama signed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law in 2015 there was a focus on directing funding into the lowest-performing schools and America’s disadvantaged and high-need students, who have typically been Black and Brown youth in America.

The ESSA reauthorized President Lyndon Johnson’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which was inherently tied to civil rights. According to the Department of Education:

“ESEA offered new grants to districts serving low-income students, federal grants for textbooks and library books, funding for special education centers, and scholarships for low-income college students. Additionally, the law provided federal grants to state educational agencies to improve the quality of elementary and secondary education.”   

But if white Tennessee Republicans do not take the money, those dollars will go to other states instead of  educating our Tennessee students.

The biggest line-item budget for smaller counties generally falls to education spending. Tennesseans are already paying the federal government income tax, part of which comes back to Tennessee in the form of education spending. So, the GOP wants Tennessee to not take $1.8 billion in federal funding for grades K-12 because of their mistrust of the federal government, which has nothing to do with standards already in place and everything to do with their fear-mongering hate political agenda. 

According to the Beacon Center of Tennessee, “of the nearly $11 billion spent statewide on operating expenditures in fiscal year 2020, only 53 percent, or $5.8 billion, was actually spent on instruction, which includes teacher salaries and other learning and material costs. According to the most recent report on public education finances by the United States Census Bureau, the national average of education expenditures that make it to the classroom is 60 percent, significantly higher than Tennessee’s expenditures. By using the national average percentage of classroom expenditures. Tennessee school districts siphoned nearly $700 million elsewhere, much of which should have gone to the classroom to support students and teachers.” 

That report also found that “despite the fact that funds specifically for students’ classroom experience have rebounded, total classroom expenditures continue to decrease” while administrative salaries have increased. It’s important to point out that administrator pay is determined by county governments, not by the schools themselves, and not by the federal government. By not taking the money allotted by the federal government won’t change administrative salaries.

Tennessee is clearly already doing an atrocious  job at spending its education dollars, and yes, there should be some changes to how Tennessee spends its tax dollars on education. But let me be very clear – the mismanagement of funds comes from the white power structure, and all the effects will be felt by Black and Brown children across the great state of Tennessee.

Finally, Tennessee has 139,335 millionaires, and 11 billionaires who could use their influence to see that racist politicians do the right thing and support our school system.

It’s a shame that Tennessee politician’s are not pushing for Tennessee to rank #25 or less instead of #50, where it currently stands.