NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) –— Tennessee owes the state’s only publicly funded Historically Black College around half a billion dollars.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers meeting on the issue found the state routinely underfunded Tennessee State University for decades.
But as a near billion dollar check is being written to fund the development of an auto and battery plant in West Tennessee, many are asking when the dollars owed will be paid.
Whether you are an alum or a business owner, at TSU, the conversations about the funds are ongoing.
“We understand it’s a process but do some good faith, if you’re unprepared to give $544 million right off the top, you can do the same thing, like you did with this nice big plant that’s coming to West Tennessee —they’ve been given $900 million, we should be given good money upfront,” said Barry Barlow, a TSU alum, and Zeta Alpha Alumni Association president.
Frederick Waller, owner of Ooh Wee Bar-B-Q on Jefferson Street said the state should make the money available.
“Tennessee, the university, they don’t do anything to harm them but they harm Tennessee State and I have a problem with that,” Waller said.
The University of Tennessee-Knoxville, a primarily white institution, is the other land-grant college in the state.
“Tennessee State had been underfunded close to $544 million in state matching funds,” Rep. Harold Love said.
A bipartisan legislative committee report detailed how the state did not match federal land grants given to Tennessee State University as required by law.
“When we talk about land grant institutions there’s a requirement that the state provides matching funds to the federal dollars that they drawdown,” said Love, who sits on the committee. “This is significant because when the state does not provide those matching funds, the university oftentimes has to make the funds available themselves for the particular federal grant.”
The move, Love said, puts the university in a position to deal with issues from infrastructure, expanding course work and staff, to the recruitment of students, by shuffling general funds.
“This is what happens when you don’t have that required funding to come in properly,” he said. “Issues are differed and put off and you end up with a situation where you have dire needs of repairs out there.”
The renewed focus on the money owed to TSU comes as the Legislature approved a nearly $900 million incentives package for a West Tennessee megasite.
“I met with board members of TSU to talk about appropriate funding, what that funding should be used for, how much it should be, where the investment should be made those are all ongoing conversations,” said Gov. Bill Lee.
The Tennessee Higher Education Commission produced a report from last year that showed over $337 million of deferred maintenance is needed on the TSU campus.
“I’m hopeful and believing that in the midst of the committee reporting out how much Tennessee State is owed, in the midst of us just coming from a special session where we are investing 900 million dollars in Ford and SK, that the governor also sees that this is also a necessary investment,” Love said.