Local Control vs Federal Funding

Tennessee’s General Assembly is considering a bill that would indemnify teachers and all other employees of public schools and local education agencies against civil liability or “adverse job actions” if they refer to a student by pronouns consistent with his biological sex rather than by his preferred gender pronouns. The General Assembly’s Fiscal Review Committee noted that the bill

could violate Title IX and would put at risk the state’s federal funding, which for the current school year is more than $5 billion.

That’s the important aspect of this bill, and it has much broader implications for all State-level legislative actions. The $5 billion might seem like a lot of money for a State, but it pales against the long-term cost outcomes of a State accepting any Federal funds under any guise: the more money a State accepts from the Federal government, the more control over its own internal affairs the State surrenders to the Federal government.

The Feds are acting entirely legitimately when they attach strings to the money they provide the States, or to any non-State entity. Anyone providing money to anyone or anything else naturally gets to specify the manner and purpose for which the money is to be used. It’s the existence of those strings, not what they require, that should give States pause in the decision to accept any of the Federal government’s money.

In the end, States that want to retain control of their own intra-State affairs should reject Federal funds transfers—and join with other States in efforts across the legal spectrum to end Federal transfers of State tax remissions to other States altogether except in the event of an emergency declaration. Nor should any exceptions to the bar be allowed: once carve-outs are begun, in very short order, the bar will be so exception-ridden as to cease to exist in any meaningful form.

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