House Speaker Sexton Says Tennessee "Can Afford" To Reject $2 Billion In Federal Education Funds

  • Tuesday, May 16, 2023
  • Hannah Campbell
House Speaker Cameron Sexton
House Speaker Cameron Sexton

House Speaker Cameron Sexton continues to muse about rejecting $2 billion in federal funding for education. After revealing the idea in February, he proposed a task force to make a feasibility recommendation by Dec. 1 this year.

“Our state can afford not to take federal education dollars,” Rep. Sexton told Hamilton County Republican Women Tuesday. “We would have total control of what we teach in the schools.”

Tennessee would be the first state ever to reject the money, and Rep. Sexton suggested that Tennessee has been first a lot lately, and other states have been following.

Rep. Sexton said that Tennessee is “leading the country,” with the “best economy” in the 50 states. “Our limitation is the federal government,” he said.

“These blue states do not like it,” he said, acknowledging the trend of voters to identify as “conservative” or “progressive,” not Republican or Democrat.

As the California state legislature votes to raise the debt ceiling from $23 billion to $32 billion, he said, Tennessee’s current budget cuts $407 million in taxes while halting sales tax on groceries for three months later this year. Tennessee’s rainy-day fund is in the billions.

Rep. Sexton said that the Republican-controlled General Assembly and the Caucus will not support “red flag” laws to limit gun sales in the upcoming August special session. He said the state would go far if it first enforced its existing laws, including an existing order of protection law regarding mental illness.

But there are loopholes to close, too, he said. Under current law a conservatee cannot own a gun but he can purchase a gun. Mental health histories and violent crime histories of juveniles are wiped clean at 19 years old, he said, and some important incidents may be just a few months old.

Rep. Sexton said that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has a 200,000-case data entry backlog, or 12 years’ worth of data that might keep dangerous people from buying guns. He speculated that people like the Covenant School shooter could be listed in this backlog.

“I’m not going to mention her name because it’s not worth it,” he said.

This year’s budget funds an armed school resource officer in every Tennessee school, public or private. He said children should be safe “anywhere they go.”

“It shouldn’t matter if they’re in public or private school,” he said. SROs build relationships with students and prevent tragedy, he said.

“They become fabric of that school,” he said.

The budget also doubles funding for behavioral health care in schools, and Rep. Sexton proposed that mental health care be offered in schools as well. If schools have rejected federal money, they will have more local power to resist a federal agenda, he said.

Rep. Sexton predicted that young people’s stress and anxiety brought on by the pandemic will be “huge” during the next 10 years.

“I think that there are a lot of things that we can do,” he said.

Rep. Sexton praised the Truth in Sentencing law of 2022, which requires some violent criminals to serve their full sentences without possibility of parole or early release.

He said the Memphis man who murdered runner Eliza Fletcher should have been in jail at the time, but a good credit system allowed him early release.

Rep. Sexton said he would like to build Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology onsite at jails to help prisoners prepare for release. He said vocational job training and housing are better versions of rehabilitation programming. His own Crossville constituents tell him, “Just don’t send me home,” so they can break the cycle, he said.

He has also pushed secret ballots in the unionization process for companies that receive state money. Rep. Sexton said that a company has never unionized in Tennessee with a secret ballot.

If the secret ballot system is good enough for local and federal elections, he said, “it should be good enough for unions.”

Rep. Sexton said the general assembly is working to protect the lives of mothers as well as the lives of their unborn babies.

“You can do both,” he said.

Rep. Sexton closed by saying that if he could do it all over again, he would still vote to expel the Tennessee Three, even though it made some bad press.

“You hope they learn, you hope they change,” he said. “I’m not so sure about these three, but we’ll see.”

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