NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Earlier this month, state leaders set aside time for the U.S. Dept. of Education (DoE) to come present about federal education funding. But it never showed.
“Well, I learned that the federal Department of Education doesn’t want to come and answer questions,” Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) said. “They don’t want anyone to know what they’re doing, so I find that amusing.”
But the DoE said it was never invited.
“The U.S. Department of Education was not invited by the working group co-chairs to testify,” a department spokesperson wrote in a statement to News 2. “However, the Department has offered to provide technical assistance to members of the legislature.”
“I’ll just say I didn’t appoint the group, I didn’t create the group, and I didn’t task the group,” he told reporters last week. “Not sure what the group has come up with.”
Sexton has instead taken the lead and said the state has surplus funds that can cover the gap should Tennessee reject federal education funding.
But critics have wondered why not just accept the federal funding and infuse it with the state surplus.
“For what purpose?” Sexton asked News 2 during an interview. “What purpose do they want to use it for?”
State Capitol reporter Chris O’Brien mentioned potentially raising teacher salaries before being cut off by Sexton.
“Okay, we’ve increased teacher salaries by up to almost $50,000. We’re continuing to increase teacher salaries, what else do they have?” Sexton said. “It’s real easy to be in the minority and say, ‘We just need to throw in more money.’ What’s their plan? What’s their plan to improve education?”
He also took aim at Democrats, saying they’ve been holding Tennessee back the last few decades.
“They had control in our state for 100 years. When Republicans came in 13 years ago, we were ranked 49th in the state in education – I mean in the nation in education. Now, we’re in the low 30s, low 40s, or high 40s or low 38, right? [sic]” Sexton said. “So, we have improved education.”
The rankings do differ significantly based on where you look.
Regardless, Democrats were quick to point out they don’t think any of those rankings are something to be incredibly proud of.
“Why is the Speaker of the House and the Governor of Tennessee trying to take the knees out of our public education system?” House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) said. “If we want to improve educational performance, if we really want to educate children, then why are we trying to destroy the very system that facilitates that?”