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TSU's multimillion dollar reimbursement not included in Gov. Lee's budget


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WZTV) —State lawmakers recently admitted the state owed Tennessee State University millions of dollars after not giving the school money promised to fund its agricultural department.

TSU is one of two agriculture universities in the state that—for decades—has been part of the federal land grant program. As part of that program, TSU was to receive the federal land grant which was to also be matched by the state.

Tennessee’s other land grant university, U.T. Knoxville is part of the same program. A special legislative committee found while the state often withheld the funding from TSU, UT always got its money, sometimes more.

The committee found the state owes TSU anywhere from $100 million to $544 million. After several lawmakers and Gov. Lee acknowledged the debt, he did not include it in his proposed 2021-2022 budget.

FOX 17 News has learned, despite promising to pay the university back, reimbursement is not included in the governor’s new budget.

Fox 17 News’ Harriet Wallace, who’s been investigating this story from the beginning, asked the governor why he didn’t include it in his proposed budget. Spokeswoman Casey Black sent the following statement:

“Our administration is committed to ensuring quality education for all Tennesseans, and we appreciate the Study Committee’s attention to this matter.”

Sen. Bo Watson, chair of the Finance, Ways and Means committee sent Wallace the following statement:

“Fixing the long-standing budgetary shortages of funding for Tennessee State University, set forth by Democrats during their decades of leadership in the Tennessee General Assembly, has been something that I have made a priority of discussion and funding since brought to my attention in 2018. As chairman of Senate Finance, I remain committed to funding TSU and continuing to find solutions to rectify the inadequacies.”

Though separate from the state reimbursement, Black says Gov. Lee did include the following money in his proposed budget for TSU:

FY 21-22 Budget Amendment

  • $2M to increase TSU Agriculture extension agents
  • $2M grant to TSU to help with student retention. Aim is to support outside of cost of enrollment that traditional student loans could cover.

Original FY 21-22 Budget

  • $3.65M for HVAC repairs on TSU campus
  • $1.9M for structural repairs on TSU campus
  • $416K to replace roof on TSU’s Crouch Hall
  • $400K for TSU Goodwill Manor and Harned Hall exterior renovations

Representative Harold Love, who led the investigation, says, although some money will be included for TSU, lawmakers have a couple of weeks to make amendments to the budget to specifically address reimbursement for the land grant withholding.

“We would like to put something more in the budget for Tennessee State just as a sign of good faith effort to say to the general public that we are working on this and we will make efforts next year for a heavier lift,” said Rep. Love.

He and other lawmakers have said a lump sum payment is probably not likely.

At least 18 other HBCU’s across the country have discovered the same land grant withholding from their respective state. Some of them sued the state for reimbursement.

Dr. Glenda Glover, president of Tennessee State University says they’ve been approached with that option but for now, they are focusing their attention on negotiating repayment with the state.

Rep. Love seems confident that will happen.

“I believe everything that can and should be done will be done to avoid a potential lawsuit,” said Rep. Love.

The state’s new fiscal year begins July 1.


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