Live from Music Row Wednesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed State Representative Bruce Griffey in studio to answer tough questions on federal funding for K-12 public education.
Leahy: We are in studio with State Representative Bruce Griffey. Bruce, have you ever broadcasted live from the studios on Music Row?
Griffey: I have not.
Leahy: Isn’t it exciting?
Griffey: This is the first time.
Leahy: It’s kind of fun. We have a nice studio here don’t you think?
Griffey: I do, I do. It’s also very different, the kind of interviews you can do in person, in studio versus on the phone.
Griffey: I like being face to face. It’s much easier to interact and discuss things.
Leahy: It’s much easier to ask the tough questions. (Griffey laughs) The curveballs. Are you ready?
Leahy: Are you ready?
Leahy: I’ve asked every single state legislator who’s come in on this program. I ask them this question, and I’ve yet to get an answer from somebody that says that they will take up the challenge. But here we go. Are you ready?
Leahy: It’s about education.
Leahy: We would agree that K-12 public education here in Tennessee is not going in the right direction in terms of the test scores.
Leahy: And so when something is not performing well, we ought to be looking at ways to fix that.
Leahy: So we’re in agreement there?
Leahy: Now, I have a theory. I think it’s backed by a lot of evidence. I think that one of the reasons K-12 public education around the country, and particularly in Tennessee, is going down, down, down. . .
One of the reasons not the only reason is because the federal government gives money to states to use in school districts. And with that money comes strings. About 10 percent of your K-12 public school budget is provided by the federal government.
I think if you did an analysis of it, all of the strings and the compliance requirements, I think the net gain to any school system is probably maybe not the 10 percent, maybe some more like six percent.
But it’s those strings that put all sorts of rules that make it virtually impossible for K-12 public school systems to teach the kinds of things about our country, about civics, about the Constitution that we want our kids to know. Would you agree with that?
Griffey: Absolutely. Fully.
Leahy: Okay, here’s the big question. As a member of the State House of Representatives, will you consider introducing a bill this session that tells the federal government to stay out of public education in Tennessee?
That 10 percent that they send us. They can keep it. I call it Where the Sun Don’t Shine Bill. That’s where they can put their money. What do you think?
Griffey: All right. Are you ready for my answer?
Leahy: Hold it. Everybody is listening. Everybody is waiting to see if State Representative Bruce Griffey will be the leader of the charge to tell the federal government to keep their money when it comes to K-12 public education.
Griffey: So the question is, will I consider it?
Leahy: That was the question.
Griffey: Okay. Yes, I will consider it.
Leahy: See, now, I phrased it in a way that made you able to say yes.
Griffey: Gave me a little out.
Leahy: I gave you a little bit of out.
Griffey: You did. I appreciate it. (Leahy laughs) And look, here would be my response. What if instead of just saying government, screw you, feds take the money, we don’t need it.
What if we actually either abolish the Federal Department of Education and we simply said pass that money along to the states without the bureaucracy?
If you want to track and have the money go with the child, every dollar, let’s calculate that on a per-student basis that we get from the feds and let’s distribute that directly to each school district where a child goes to school from the feds with no strings attached whatever. Why can’t we do that?
Leahy: I don’t think as a member of the Tennessee General Assembly you can do that.
Griffey: I cannot.
Leahy: This would require a federal law.
Griffey: Maybe Morgan Ortegas will take up that charge.
Leahy: If you get her in here, we will ask that question.
Griffey: She would be a hero.
Leahy: The new resident of Tennessee for all of eleven months who’s never voted, as far as we can tell, in a Tennessee election, Morgan Ortegas, who just received the nomination, the statement of support from President Trump, who said if she gets in, he’ll endorse her.
By the way, she tweeted back to him. Thank you so much for that statement, Mr. President. An indication that there may be an announcement coming shortly from Morgan Ortegas.
Griffey: I feel like I’m the biggest Trump supporter in the General Assembly and I will back President Trump on this. What worries me…
Leahy: Are you saying that you, Bruce Griffey, are going to endorse Morgan Ortegas for the Fifth Congressional District in which you do not live, nomination for the GOP if she announces? Are we making more news here, Bruce?
Griffey: If Trump backs her, I will back her because I back President Trump.
Leahy: Well, there you go. That’s interesting. We have broken two pieces of news and maybe a third piece of news. Now back to that whole idea of considering to file a bill to tell the feds to keep that 10 percent federal money that’s used in K-12 public education.
What would have to happen for you to move from consideration to actually file such a bill? If I got you the sample legislation if you were able to look at that because it’s hard to write a bill.
Griffey: Here is what would impact my decision on that. When I got into this job, I said I’m going to try to represent my constituents and what they want. I try to do Facebook polls and try to get input.
I’ve actually got a bill to put a non-binding ballot measure on the November 22nd election about what Tennesseeans want to do about marijuana. Because we’ve been fighting over that issue for so many years now.
I think the citizens ought to have a chance to voice their opinion. Not just marijuana, any piece of legislation. So what I would do is I’d like to go back to my school teachers and directors of school because quite frankly, they’re probably the largest employer in my district and get their input on that and if they could live without that 10 percent. If they could do it and I’ve got a bill slot.
Leahy: Okay. So here’s what we’ll do on this. So if you go back, we’ll rustle up some sample legislation, we’ll get it to you. And then I’d like you to come back.
Leahy: You talk to the teachers. And you said something interesting that the school districts are the largest employer in your district, right?
Griffey: Probably, yeah.
Leahy: That’s interesting. And I think that’s one of the reasons why real changes in education haven’t happened. But you’re going to talk to school teachers in your district, both union and non-union, and the superintendents and board members. And you’ll say what would happen if we told the feds we don’t want any money?
Griffey: Let me say this on this issue, too, please, Michael. Our teachers, I don’t think, have really changed from the time when you and I went to school and learned. What has changed is the administration of education. And it’s been from the top down. And I agree the TEA has been problematic.
Leahy: The Tennessee Education Association.
Griffey: A unionized thing.
Leahy: When Crom Carmichael comes in at 6:30, he’s going to say it’s all the teachers’ unions are the cause of the problem.
Griffey: I think there is a valid criticism of that. The pigs get fat and the hogs get slaughtered is the expression I always like to use. And I think unions have done great things in America, but at the same time, I think they’ve damaged the cost for a lot of workers.
Leahy: Let me give you a hard time.
Griffey: Sure. Absolutely.
Leahy: What was the last great thing that unions in America did?
Griffey: (Laughter) Well, I’m thinking back we got away from child labor and that kind of stuff.
Leahy: Let’s see, that would be, I don’t know, about 1910. About a century ago.
Griffey: Look, we’ve got our borders being flooded with people here illegally. And these people are suppressing the wages of working legitimate citizens of Tennessee in America. If our unions would step up and try to protect against that.
Leahy: What’s the last great thing that a public employee union did?
Griffey: Oh, gosh, don’t put me on the spot. I haven’t really thought about it.
Leahy: Because I don’t think they’ve done anything great. If Crom Carmichael were here, he would say and he will, that one of the things he’d like to do is see the Tennessee General Assembly say you can no longer have public employee unions. He thinks that would be a good thing.
Griffey: I’d have to hear all the arguments on both sides of that. I really would.
Leahy: Are we giving you a hard time today?
Griffey: I’m a trial lawyer. I go back and forth all day long, so anything’s fair game, particularly in politics.
Leahy: Oh, absolutely. We really appreciate you coming in today.
Griffey: Thank you.
Leahy: And you’re going to go off. You’ve got a big day ahead.
Leahy: And say hello to all of our good friends up there in the Tennessee General Assembly.
Leahy: We’ll have Johnny Garrett on here at 7:30. We’ll ask him the same question.
Griffey: All right. I think I can get my wife come in and talk to you.
Leahy: We’d be delighted to have her. And thanks for breaking news on two areas here today. Thanks for joining us.
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