NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Nearly $1.8 billion – that’s how much the state may cough up if it chooses not to accept federal education dollars.

“The state will pick up the cost and still fund those things,” Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) said. “But we will be free of the federal regulations.”

Sexton said he’s introduced a bill to decline federal education funding and instead replace it with state money. “If we can fund it ourselves and not have federal overreach coming in, why would we not do that?” he said.

Democrats said because it’s nearly $2 billion in free money, and if we’re just sitting on a surplus now, why not put that toward education and accept the federal dollars?

“Think about what those dollars could be used for,” Rep. John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) said. “We’re already underfunding public education in the state of Tennessee.”

Democrats also argue if the state declines the federal money, Tennesseans would be paying double. They’d pay state taxes that go toward education and they’d pay federal taxes, though that federal money wouldn’t be going to Tennessee in the form of education.

“That is completely fiscally irresponsible and jeopardizes the entire future of this state,” Clemmons said.

But Sexton argued federal taxes don’t go exclusively toward education.

“It flows to roads, it can flow to other things,” Sexton said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean it flows to education.”

News 2 did reach out to the U.S. Dept. of Education for comment. It’s response, in full, reads:

“Our students need more – not less – to support their academic recovery and address the youth mental health crisis. This political posturing will impede the basic education of young people throughout the entire K-12 school system and limit opportunities – particularly for students most in need – to access tutoring and academic support, afterschool and summer programs, school counselors, mental health professionals, and other assistance. Any elected leader in any state threatening to reject federal public education funds should have to answer to their local educators and parents in their community about the detrimental impact it would have on their community’s education system and their students’ futures.”