The children of Fort Campbell Mahaffey Middle School will indeed have a new construction project to look forward to in the coming year — just maybe not that new schoolhouse they were expecting.
Instead, they might get a border wall — or a fence, or barbed wire, or something like that — about 1,000 miles southwest of their school, which sits on a military base straddling the Kentucky-Tennessee line.
That's because the $62 million that was earmarked for the school's construction is among the billions of dollars already appropriated to the Defense Department, the pot of money the Trump administration now wants to redirect to pay for 230 miles of barriers along the southern border as part of the president's national emergency declaration.
And those Kentucky middle schoolers will be better off because of it, says Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.).
The powerful Republican and outspoken Trump ally said Sunday that border barriers top a new school.
“I would say it’s better for the middle school kids in Kentucky to have a secure border,” Graham said on CBS News’ Face the Nation. “We’ll get them the school they need, but right now we’ve got a national emergency on our hands.”
There are a few people who take issue with Graham’s assertion. Namely, Kentucky teachers.
The president of the Kentucky Education Association, the state’s teachers union, responded to the senator’s comments in a statement to the Washington Post.
"KEA supports any funding that goes toward providing a quality public education to America's students no matter their ZIP code," said Stephanie Winkler, the union chief. "Any actions that take those funds away do a disservice to students, no matter the rationale or reason given."
Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky's Democratic secretary of state, also objected to Graham's comment.
“No,” she wrote on Twitter " … what we need are raises for KY teachers and high speed internet in every classroom."
Money from the Defense Department may be especially valuable in Kentucky, a state that received among the highest shares of its revenue from the federal government in 2017, coming in 13th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia, according to data from the National Education Association.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) told the Louisville Courier Journal that a halt to the school construction project is “a hypothetical,” adding that acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan will determine “what specific funds will be used.”
Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D., Ill.) said that Trump’s declaration of a national emergency amounts to a power grab and that taking funding away from those defense projects will ultimately hurt the country.