On Wednesday’s Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 am to 8:00 am – Michael Patrick Leahy spoke to U.S. Rep. Mark Green (R-TN-7) regarding his recent letter to the United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
During the third hour, Green explained the details of the letter that requested DeVos recognize the impact of the coronavirus and how it inhibits a school’s ability to administer accurate statewide assessments. Towards the end of the segment, Green touched how he felt the Democratic leadership was initiating a spending mentality in order to look like they cared more than the President.
Leahy: We are joined by our good friend, Representative Mark Green. Welcome to The Tennessee Star Report Representative Green.
Green: Well glad to be here Michael, thank you.
Leahy: Things are moving fast. Two days ago, 48 hours ago you sent a letter to the Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos requesting that the United States Department of Education recognize the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the school’s ability to administer statewide assessments.
And you asked the Department of Education immediately to grant any states request for a one-year waiver of what’s called the section 8401 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Tell us about that.
Green: Yes. Sure. I’ve heard from the professional educators in Tennessee and JC Bowman and a lot of teachers in the community, and they were just really describing how almost impossible it would be for them to get the assessments done.
Absenteeism is a big factor that will impact schools. You take the schools that were both hurt by the tornado and pile on top of that closures for COVID-19. It’s going to be very difficult to assess and compare school systems in some states like New York and California and Washington state which appear to be hit a lot harder than Tennessee.
So, how do you use the metrics for absenteeism to grade a school? It’s just not possible, so we need to let the teachers and the students all know right now that’s not going to be held against them.
Leahy: So you sent the letter two days ago to the Secretary of Education. When do you expect to hear back from the Secretary of Education?
Green: My plan right now which is all kind of in the legislative and political mechanisms and machinations. I got it in front of a bunch of other legislators right now to add their signatures to the letter.
Probably Thursday we’ll resend the letter with hopefully 30 or 40 more congressmen who agree with me. This is a bi-partisan thing. The Democrats that I’ve spoken to seem to appreciate it as well.
Even organizations like the TEA and stuff like that are supportive or at least the members. I haven’t spoken to the organization specifically. But members of the organization are. We’ll get a bunch of listed names.
We’ll get that to her. I’ll have a call with her. If she doesn’t want to do it, of course, I’ve already reached out to the administration with the details of it that they’ll suggest it happen. Then if it doesn’t happen we’ll write a bill.
Leahy: This seems like a no brainer to me though. She seems like a very reasonable person.
Green: She’s very reasonable.
Leahy: I like her. I can’t imagine why she would say no. Is there something we don’t see there that’s out perhaps?
Green: Not that I can see. To me its a no-brainer and some folks from Oklahoma, Kansas, and other states have reached out and said, “Hey we really appreciate this.” These are teachers and administrators that I’ve asked them to sign on. So I think everybody likes this.
Leahy: So you are a medical doctor. You’re also a West point graduate. You have a unique perspective on this. Just give us a sense of how Washington is reacting to this coronavirus pandemic and the associated economic shutdown we see coming forward.
Green: You mention that I’man ER doc and one of the things that we do in emergency medicine, well all physicians really take the Hippocratic oath. The Hippocratic oath is tooth or arm.
We have to be very careful and cautious that the panic that gets created doesn’t do more harm than the virus. At the same time, we have to respect this thing. It is a pandemic which means it’s a new presentation that our immune systems haven’t seen, so we would expect to be an increased amount of sickness and mortality. But we just have to be cautious.
You look at some of the drastic measures that they are talking about. The thing that frustrates me the most is they are planning to spend money when they haven’t spent the money that they’ve already allocated. You’ve got eight billion mostly focused on the scientific aspects of tackling the disease.
Leahy: Was that eight billion?
Green: Eight point three billion. So that money went to testing and vaccine research which Maderna the company has already got phase one started now. In fact, it just kicked off in Washington state. So that’s an unbelievable record-setting time. And then there is the 50 billion when the president released money from the Stafford Act.
Leahy: That was just Friday. (Laughs) It just happened on Friday!
Green: Yes. It seems like a million years ago.
Leahy: It does.
Green: But no it was just Friday right. And so that 50 billion has barely been touched. That’s 50 billion dollars, right? It has hardly been touched and the president has incredible latitude. In fact, Chuck Schumer issued a statement very shortly after he declared the national emergency saying the president better make sure he only uses this for only COVID-19.
And that was a coated statement to say don’t build any wall with this. (Leahy chuckles) so clearly the president has plenty of latitude. He could pay for all the testing with that. But then we turn around to pass a bill that has some good stuff in it.
The supplemental nutritional stuff for kids who are out of school. I think that’s really good. Those families depend on that resource to feed those children. I just read Sonny Perdue, the secretary of agriculture and his statement on how they plan to get that out.
They seem like they got a great plan. So I feel good about that. The testing is about population health not only individual health but population health so we’ve got to know the transmission ability of it at various age groups and various settings and that takes testing.
So I think paying for that is appropriate for the government to do. And some of the other stuff like paid leave when they first passed the bill it was 110 pages. We passed it around 12:30 a.m. Friday night.
The Senate wasn’t coming back until Monday. So they rushed this bill through. It was 110 pages. They wound up passing a correction. They called it a technical correction but it was 89 pages. And quite substantial.
Leahy: Holy cow.
Green: The whole process is ridiculous. And this is all because of whose leading the House right now.
Leahy: Let me stop for a moment. Have you seen in this severe public health crisis, have you seen more cooperation and less partisanship on the part of Speaker Pelosi and all the Democratic leadership?
Green: Well partisanship is an interesting definition or interesting word to use right now because they are plowing forward with an agenda that is spend. Just spend, just spend and let’s try to outdo the president.
That’s sort of what I think is coming from the leadership of the Democratic Party. There are Democrats out there saying, “Oh my gosh we’ve got to be careful here. This is going to bankrupt us.” But at the same time between Speaker Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, they are trying to outspend the president like they care more.
We’re spending money when we still got this other money left to spend. I think that’s what’s going on. It takes some guts to say, “No this bill that has a lot of good stuff in it and I really want to help people in need but I’m going to say no on that because it has all these other things that are really bad for the country.”
It takes guts to say I’m going to vote against that. Partisanship right now is, oh, well let’s just say, “Yes, so we can look like we’re doing the right thing. And that is not good for the country. It’s unsettling for me because after the virus is gone people will need jobs to feed themselves.”
Listen to the full third hour here:
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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Background Photo “Department of Education” by Coolcaesar. CC BY-SA 3.0.