Lawmakers to Report on Millions Withheld from Tennessee State Over Decades in State Land Grant Funding

A bipartisan committee of Tennessee lawmakers will study how the state has underfunded its flagship historically Black institution’s land-grant activities over generations.

The Tennessee Tribune reported last week on an upcoming meeting of the Land Grant Institution Funding History Study Committee, which was convened this summer to pinpoint the amount of money withheld from Tennessee State University by the state in violation of federal rules under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s land-grant funding programs.

The committee looks to review funding data between 1955 and 2016. From the Tribune:

“My hopeful goal is that we will be able to figure out the actual amount of money that the state should have been appropriated to TSU from 1955 to 2016, and that we are able to put together a plan to figure out how to distribute that money once we figure out how much is owed,” said State Representative Harold M. Love Jr. “Our job is to find the disparity.” 

A lack of state funding for federal land grant and extension programs has cost HBCUs nationwide billions over the years. A 2018 report from the National Education Association’s Center for Great Public Schools reported showed that funding inequities continued for HBCUs in the form of waiver denials and federal budget cuts, in addition to states withholding matching dollars.

In 2017, about $50 million was earmarked for appropriations from federal funds under the Evans-Allen Act, and as such, HBCUs needed $50 million to be matched by non-federal sources. However, nine of the 19 1890 HBCUs filed waivers in 2017, indicating that they were unable to secure a full funding match. These nine institutions were able to raise between 52 and 87 percent of their required non-federal match. Combined, they lost nearly $10 million in funds due to the matching fund shortage. Kentucky State University lost the largest percent of its land-grant appropriation at 52 percent (more than $1.7 million while Prairie View A&M University in Texas lost the most money at $1.95 million.

Six of the 19 institutions also applied for a waiver in 2016, showing that for some HBCUs, falling short on matching funds is not a rare occurrence. Similarly, a study by Association of Public Land-Grant Universities found that between 2010 and 2012, 61 percent of the 18 HBCUs studied had not received a full match, resulting in a total loss of $57 million to these institutions. In contrast, during this period states either met or exceeded the matching fund requirements for their non-HBCU land-grant universities.

“There were years when TSU had to request a waiver from the federal government and pull the money out of their general fund to even make the waiver amount match to keep the federal funds,” Rep. Love told the Tribune. “Imagine $32 million has been allocated to the university. But then the federal amount that comes down is $4 million, but they have zero from the state. They have to take that $4 million out of their general fund allotment just to make the match to receive the federal money. Just ten years of that and you have $40 million that could have gone into something else.”