Rejecting billions of dollars of federal education funding looms over local advocacy groups
“To do away with those funds is to do away with those rights, those protections, and it really just throws the education of kids with disabilities into jeopardy.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - Some Tennessee education advocacy groups worry lawmakers will reject billions in federal education money.
For the last two weeks, lawmakers have held meetings looking at rejecting these funds, however some state groups say their voices weren’t heard and they would be directly impacted.
“To do away with those funds is to do away with those rights, those protections, and it really just throws the education of kids with disabilities into jeopardy,” said Strand.
There’s growing concern over the possibility of state leaders rejecting billions of federal dollars for education, and groups like Tennessee Disability Coalition would see the direct impact it would have on students with disabilities across the state.
“We hear daily from probably, at this point, hundreds of parents who are concerned about this,” said Jeff Strand.
Strand is the Tennessee Disability Coalition Coordinator of Government & External Affairs. He says a large amount of the funding goes toward services in the “Individuals with Disabilities Education Act,” which is the structure of special education.
“It’s all the civil rights that go along with being a student with a disability and to forgo those funds would mean that you are free of those regulations, which are really just protections with kids with disabilities. Without those protections, education is fundamentally different,” said Strand.
Strand says without those federal dollars there’s a lot at stake for 125,000 students with disabilities in the state.
“You might not be meaningfully involved in setting aside resources for your child and two you would lose avenues for redress. If the school is not living up to their promises, if they have written you a poor IEP now, you’ve run out of options for holding them accountable,” said Strand.
It’s not just students with disabilities who would be impacted. Nashville P.R.O.P.E.L., a parent-led organization, helps Davidson County parents in struggling communities and under performing schools. It is worried about the lasting effects.
Sonya Thomas, P.R.O.P.E.L.’s executive director believes going without these funds would also affect minority groups.
“I’m very puzzled about rejecting money when the thing that parents hear all the time is that we don’t have enough funding. There’s so much work that needs to be done for Black children and for children with disabilities to move the needle for them,” said Thomas.
The Sycamore Institute says nearly 90% of the federal education money is for students from low-income families, students with disabilities and school meals.
Ultimately, Thomas wants those federal dollars prioritized because there’s a large sector of Tennessee students who need it the most, and she says that’s what lawmakers should focus on.
“Our organization was not invited to the table. This is a conversation in which all parents should be involved in,” said Thomas.
There are long-term implications if federal dollars were rejected that Strand says could put students in jeopardy permanently.
“The long-term issues we’re concerned about is that IDA comes with a federal rule called supplement not supplant which means that the state can’t take these funds and replace funds that they’re using they have to add on top,” said Strand.
The Tennessee Disability Coalition is urging parents who are concerned to reach out to state lawmakers to make sure their voices are heard.
“Fortunately, Tennessee is in excellent fiscal shape, and if we can provide better public education services for every child using state dollars that is a topic worthy of further study and understanding,” state Rep. William Slater, R-Gallatin, said in a statement to WSMV4.
“Federal strings might make a good soundbite, but if you don’t have any real substance behind what you’re throwing out into the wind, then you should probably just back off,” Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, said.
The panel is likely to meet again after Thanksgiving. By January, the joint working group will need to have a recommendation for lawmakers on whether to keep the funds or not.
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