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Despite budget problems, Knox Schools gives nearly $1 million to private schools

The district is furloughing workers and eliminating positions, but is required to give federal COVID relief money to some of Knoxville's most expensive schools.

Knox County Schools will give $850 thousand in federal COVID relief funds to some of Knoxville most expensive private schools, even as the public district furloughs workers and cuts budgets. 

In all, Knox County received $12.8 million in federal CARES act funding, part of the coronavirus stimulus bill. It will use most to fund its one-to-one laptop initiative, but will distribute nearly a million dollars to private schools and the Emerald Charter school, as required by the Trump administration. 

"We just don’t want to take resources from the masses to give to a select few," head of the county education association, Tanya Coats, said. "All that money could be used to help kids in the classroom."

Coats said the district is already hurting, with the coronavirus pandemic leading to death by a thousand cuts. 

"It's going to be a slow bleed. We're going to get stabbed from the left, the right, the top, the bottom and we're going to start seeping out," she said. 

Twenty positions have been eliminated, hundreds of staff members will take five day furloughs and the budget for textbooks has been cut in half. 

Meanwhile, KCS said it will give 17 private schools $850,933.27. 

The Webb School, where high school tuition costs $21,400, will get the most: $203,429.96. Knoxville Catholic High School will receive $126,686.70. The county's charter school, Emerald Academy, will get a check for $101,251.97.

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A Webb School spokesperson said in a statement "the funds we receive will be used to support technology needed for effective remote instruction should we need to pivot to distance learning or to implement a virtual/on-campus hybrid mode."

The spokesperson added some funds will be used for enhanced "disinfecting and cleaning measures on our 100-acre campus."  

The money comes from the federal CARES act and is designed to aid districts hit with budget shortfalls after the coronavirus pandemic devastated tax revenue. 

Knox County Schools--as with all districts across Tennessee--has been instructed to follow Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' directive to give some CARES funding to private schools. 

Coats said the money would be better spent and help more kids in public school. 

"It's heart-wrenching a little bit because I know everybody needs help, but we need it more because we never had it in the first place.

"We are going to ICU status. Public education is being hospitalized at this point because we don't have the resources," she said. 

Here is the full list of non-public and charter schools to which KCS said it will distribute funds:

  • Stanford Eisenberg Knoxville Jewish Day School - $7,038.15
  • River's Edge Christian Academy - $79,028.37
  • Knoxville Catholic High School - $126,686.70
  • First Lutheran School - $10,255.59
  • St. John Neumann Catholic School - $57,106.72
  • St. Joseph School - $47,253.80
  • Sacred Heart School - $92,898.96
  • Annoor Academy of Knoxville - $27,147.15
  • Apostolic Christian School - $33,582.03
  • One School Global - Oakmont School - $6,233.79
  • Knoxville Christian School - $23,125.35
  • Berean Christian School - $66,158.61
  • Cedar Springs Weekday - $1,407.63
  • Episcopal School of Knoxville - $49,468.14
  • Webb School of Knoxville - $203,492.96
  • New Hope Christian School - $11,663.54
  • Knoxville Montessori School - $8,445.78
  • Emerald Charter - $101,251.97.