Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, inset photo, and TN House Speaker Cameron Sexton

NASHVILLE, TN — Time and again we’ve seen Governor Lee and this Tennessee Republican supermajority make damaging decisions that put political posturing over the health and well-being of Tennesseans. Despite the fact that we get 40% of our state budget from the federal government and would be in even more dire straits without it, GOP leadership makes a big show of rejecting funds from certain programs if they think it will help their personal political ambitions.

Rejecting Medicaid expansion comes to mind, which has cost us $24 BILLION and counting even as we lead the nation in medical bankruptcies.

Recently it was the rejection of federal HIV prevention funds, which many say will lead to much pain and suffering and allow the deadly disease to proliferate in our communities senselessly.

Now the latest shortsighted, nakedly political front in this war on common sense being waged by Governor Lee, Speaker Sexton and their allies is their threat to reject federal education funding used to help the most disadvantaged kids in our state.

Yes, Speaker Sexton recently said in a meeting with donors, and Governor Lee has now confirmed, that they plan to look at REJECTING $1.8 BILLION in federal funds intended for children.

Why? Because they say the funds come with strings in the form of federal rules they don’t like having to comply with. Which rules? Sexton’s answer: “XYZ.”

He couldn’t even be bothered to get specific.

The US ED DEPT said “This political posturing will impede the basic education of young people — particularly students most in need… they should answer to local educators & parents in their community.” 

Absolutely right. But will anyone hold them accountable?

Sexton says we’ll replace the federal funds with billions from our surplus (how long will that last?) – to which TheTN ED REPORT says: “Speaker Sexton says we have billions available — Why aren’t TN lawmakers investing in our schools? Instead they expand privatization, pass unfunded mandates that create disaster…”

Exactly. If we have to replace federal funds, take it AND use them.

It’s political posturing, plain and simple.

Lee and Sexton are using funds intended to help disadvantaged children to pander to right-wing extremists who see the federal government as the enemy, because they have been told that it is for so long.

It’s modern-day secessionism, except legislators don’t have the stones to fully push for us to secede, because deep down they know how disastrous (and unpopular) it would be to suddenly blow a 40% hole in our state budget by rejecting ALL the federal funds we rely on (as one of the most federally-reliant states in the country) – so instead they pick and choose based on what they think will score them political points, no matter who gets hurt.