Federal budget cuts impact county students, water service

Thursday, April 6, 2017

As many as 300 children in Marshall County could lose their after-school programs if the proposed federal budget passes in its current form.

On the chopping block is the 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant program, which funds after-school learning at four county schools.

Generally, policy battles in Washington can seem very far removed from everyday life, but this proposed budget would take hundreds of thousands of dollars out of various budgets in the county.

Marshall County Schools receive $392,000 per year from the grant to fund before- and after-school programs at Oak Grove Elementary, Marshall Elementary, Westhills Elementary, and Cornersville Elementary.

“Three hundred children have a safe place to go every afternoon,” said Tammy Lewis, the elementary school curriculum coordinator for the school system who oversees the program.

In the Lewisburg schools, the Power Hour, as it is commonly known, extends the school day until 5:30 p.m.

The program is far more than just daycare however. The terms of the grant require time to be spent on academic and enrichment activities, including 30 minutes a day of homework help and 30 minutes of additional academic work.

Lewis said the one-to-seven teacher:student ratio in the afternoon program really enabled the certified teachers in the program the time to help students who need extra instruction.

Enrichment activities, Lewis said, are often things that teachers would like to do during the regular school day but don’t have time to do. Students get to do science experiments and technology based activities as well as taking field trips during the year.

The county has been able to offer this program for several years now thanks to the grant funding.

School systems across the state received roughly $6 million from this Federal grant to establish similar programs.

If the budget passes with the current cuts, Lewis isn’t sure from where the funding to continue would come. The state offers similar grants funded with lottery money, one of which Lewis has applied for at Delk Henson Intermediate School, but the state program does not offer the same flexability as the federal one.

Another program slated to be cut is the Community Development Block Grant funding. Municipalities generally use CDBG funds for improvements to water and sewer systems without having to pass the cost along to rate payers.

Chapel Hill is expanding their sewer services this year with $361,250 from a CDBG contribution.

“It would be tough to develop comprehensive rural water systems without CDBG,” said Chapel Hill Town Administrator Mark Graves. “The economics don’t work.”

The Marshall County Board of Public Utilities and the Lewisburg Water and Wastewater Department have also benefited from several hundred thousand dollars in CDBG grants to expand or improve water service over the years.

The Marshall County Memorial Library received roughly $2,600 this year from Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett, whose office oversees state libraries.

The funds were passed through the state from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services as part of a grant to improve and support technology in libraries. IMLS is another federal office threatened with closure in this budget.

MCML uses the annual funds to purchase new computers for public use.