On Thursday’s Tennessee Star Report with Steve Gill and Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 am to 8:00 am – guest host and Nashville Tea Party Activist Ben Cunningham spoke with The Tennessee Star’s own senior reporter Laura Baigert, co-guest host for the day, about the key 14 to 9 favorable vote in the Education Committee this week that moved the Education Savings Account legislation closer to a vote on the floor of the House. Kevin Baigert, Laura’s husband and a long-time conservative activist in the state, was also a special in-studio guest during the broadcast who provided key insights into the vote as well.
Cunningham: Had a really interesting episode yesterday at the General Assembly the, one of the Governor Bill Lee’s main legislative initiatives is what’s called an ESA , educational savings account and a real important vote occurred yesterday in the education committee. Laura, you were there. Give us just the two paragraph version of what happened. I saw it was fourteen to nine vote. That’s really is more than I thought the bigger majority. Is that about what you expected in terms of the committee vote.
Baigert: No. Actually we thought it would be a little bit closer than that. And I’m not so sure that leadership didn’t think that too because Glen Casada, of course he is a member can vote on any committee. He actually came in and sat down and was the first person to cast the vote
Laura Baigert: For the bill. Well it was a caption bill with a an amendment attached and first they voted on the amendment and attaching it to the bill and then they voted on the bill with the amendment or as an amended. And Glen was the first one to cast a vote as when there was a role call vote.
Cunningham: Why don’t you just tell our listeners that’s really a significant thing as Glen is not a member of normal regular member of the committee.
Laura Baigert: Right.
Cunningham: But as speaker he can come into any committee and vote. But it doesn’t happen very often.
Laura Baigert: It doesn’t.
Cunningham: It’s pretty rare that he will come into a committee and actually cast a vote and use that power as speaker.
Laura Baigert: That’s right. The last time, we’re not in every committee. Especially this year there’s so many sub committees as Glen as Speaker it’s hard to be in every one and watch them. But the last time we remember the Speaker had influence on a vote was the Improve Act when the Improve Act first hit the transportation committee…
Cunningham: This was the gas tax?
Laura Baigert: This was the gas tax that increased, yes. The Improve Act is the nice way to say. (Cunningham laughs) You’re right. We all know best the gas tax increased. And Beth Harwell speaker at the time sent in Curtis Johnson as Speaker per-tem to break a tie.
So that’s the last time we saw any kind, that much of an involvement. But I think it just speaks to Glen’s commitment to this issue and that he’s helping his members stand strong and it’s a courageous move for a Speaker to step forward and to do something like that.
Cunningham: And I think it shows he feels pretty strongly about his alliance with the governor. With the new governor Bill Lee. Is that a fair statement?
Laura Baigert: Yeah. And I’m not even sure, well I might say on the issue anyway. That he feels strongly on the issue and I guess because of those issues they’re connected.
Cunningham: Right. Right.
Kevin Baigert: But equally to Glen’s credit. He’s basically allowed the committee chairmen to run their committee’s as they see fit. But in this case here there was enough writing on the wall that said this vote was going to be close and because of his alignment with Governor Lee he felt like he needed to take the time and sit in the committee. It was really quite a tribute to Glen’s involvement.
Cunningham: And as always with the legislators always this drama of all the groups that are for and against. It’s an amazing process down there to watch the sausage being made.
Kevin Baigert: Yeah.
Cunningham: And thank goodness folks like you guys are down there and are watching the sausage and reporting on it on it. Thanks so much. We appreciate that. This is one of the first pieces of Governor Lee’s legislative agenda to move through.
And this kind of legislation has really difficulty in the legislature in previous years. So for him to take on this issue is really significant. And here is a man, Bill Lee, who has no legislative experience. He has never been in elective office. But I think we can say fairly affirmatively that he’s doing a pretty darn good job of jumping right into the legislative process and making a difference.
Kevin Baigert: Right.
Cunningham: Laura you were there, you and Kevin were there yesterday. Who are the main groups that were opposing? Well I’ll tell you what. Let’s go back for the listeners. The education savings account, people call it a voucher but it basically is a pool of money that parents can use in failing schools in the big counties in Tennessee. That’s Davidson, Shelby, Hamilton, and Knox and I think Madison county.
Laura Baigert: That’s right.
Cunningham: Those are the big counties in Tennessee that, those are the only counties where this program can be use. Basically it gives parents about seven thousand. Is that right?
Laura Baigert: Right.
Cunningham: And they can use this money to go wherever they want to. To go into a private school and it puts the power back into the hands where it should be! In the hands of the parents. And I personally support the legislation. I think it’s a great effort. Its like most legislation, it ain’t perfect. But I think it’s a big step in the right direction. Who were the groups, what groups were on the pro side and the con side? Who was standing there in that standing room only education committee meeting?
Laura Baigert: Well, I got to give chairman Mark White a little anaboy there. Because he ran a very good meeting yesterday. He allowed a panel of opposition to come forward and speak. And that included the Tennessee School Board Association and the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents. Those two groups represent, as the name implies, the school boards and the State of Tennessee and the superintendents. Those groups are primarily funded with our tax dollars.
And how that’s done is there are membership fees for everybody who belongs and that’s most of the schools superintendents in TOS. That’s the Tennessee Organization Superintendents and TSBA. And so our tax dollars fund those groups. And then they come out and lobby against things that are not in line with the thinking of the people of Tennessee. So those were the first two groups. The third one was the Tennessee Education Association which is the teachers union.
Laura Baigert: And they’re the affiliate of the NEA, National Education Association. Which is the largest union in the United States. So those were the people speaking.
Cunningham: Far left, typically.
Laura Baigert: Yes, far left. And what was very interesting about the opposition was their main arguments all had to do with money. Then you get the proponents of school choice options and that includes things relative to choice like the Tennessee Federation for Children. And the most amazing person who spoke yesterday was a young woman who was the daughter, she was born when her mother was just seventeen years old, single mom and no dad in the picture.
And the grandmother and the mother decided to make sure this child was able to break the chains of poverty. And those were her words. And she gave such compelling testimony about how her life has changed because she got to go outside of this failing school district and attend private school. And she graduated from college, fast forwarding, and magna cum laude and is a social worker now.
Cunningham: Wow. That is impressive. And you know, there is a mandate in the Tennessee constitution like most state constitutions that we have a responsibility to provide education. But the fact is we have failed generations of students in Memphis and these urban areas year after year after year. And we have utterly failed them.
Laura Baigert: Right
Cunningham: And we the education establishment says, ok, the answer is always to put more money into this public education system that has failed these kids year after year after year. And that’s what’s so infuriating about.
Laura Baigert: It is.
Cunningham: The polices always. They say it’s about compassion but it’s almost about the exact opposite.
Kevin Baigert: It was really interesting the way the meeting kind of orchestrated and it speaks well of Republican leadership as well as the governor because they allowed the TSBA and TOS and TEA to go first. And as Laura implied and said they basically spoke about money. Money. But then when the proponents of the ESA’s got up. They were about children, about kids, about lives.
It was industrial education complex versus humans. And it was really kind of, I mean there were a lot of moist eyes in the room after this gal from Memphis spoke about her life story. And I certainly believe that it helped to change a few of the votes.
Cunningham: That’s great. And that’s, that is what it’s about. It’s about educational results.
Kevin Baigert: Right
Cunningham: It’s about turning out kids that can think for themselves, that are ready to go to college. That are ready to go in the marketplace and earn a good living. That’s what this is about. It’s not about funding the, like you say the education complex.
Kevin Baigert: Right.
Cunnigham: And it’s about a monopoly. We have granted to government this educational monopoly. and whenever you grant a monopoly anywhere it results in lower quality and higher prices. That is always the case.
Kevin Baigert: Right.
Cunningham: And I’m just so pleased that we’re, that the governor is committed to this and going down this road. Again, it’s not perfect. I think there were some concern about illegal aliens getting funded, but that really isn’t a function of federal government.
Laura Baigert: That’s right. That’s been long decided and we’re educating them now. So to throw that up as an opposition point is really ridiculous. That’s why we need the wall. That’s why we need other things done.
Laura Baigert: So and for the opponents to be using that is kind of a joke since those are the same folks saying we need to let all the immigrants in. So this speaks to the hypocrisy of the left.
Cunningham: we can fix the immigration laws, they are obviously broken, we can build the wall but that is a separate issue like you say.
Laura Baigert: Right.
Cunningham: And the, also separate issue is the federal law that says you can’t ask about people’s origin when they apply for school. You’ve got to accept them. So the so-called ESA or so called voucher program does not, does not really a change to any of that.
Laura Baigert: No.
Cunninghham: It just puts more choice, more options into the hands of the parents.
Laura Baigert: Of the parents, right.
Cunningham: And that’s the one thing we’ve got to do. I mean the growth of charter schools. The growth of home schooling. The growth of private schools. Everything indicates that parents are crying out to have some kind of customized options for their children.
Laura Baigert: And competition is the only thing that makes and drives improvement everywhere.
Listen to the full segment here on iHeartRadio:
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