Live from Music Row Tuesday 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 Executive Director and CEO of Professional Educators of Tennessee J.C. Bowman in-studio to give his predictions on the passage of the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement Act scheduled for a vote in both the House and Senate.
Leahy: We are here with our very good friend, the President of Professional Educators of Tennessee, J.C. Bowman. We’re talking about the governor’s proposal, the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement Act, TISA.
I’m always suspicious of all these acronyms. Where does this bill stand right now on Capitol Hill in the Tennessee General Assembly?
Bowman: It’s in finance in the House. It’s expected to come out today.
Leahy: So when you say it’s expected to come out … It’s to be reviewed by finance?
Bowman: They will review it. And there have been some amendments added to the bill that make it more palatable, I think, more worthwhile. And then you’ve got to see what the Senate is going to pass, and then the House will come back, and then they’ll pass something.
Leahy: So let’s see it’s in the House Finance Committee right now.
Leahy: In the Senate, where does it stand?
Bowman: Senate, it’s probably on the floor.
Leahy: And it’s made it to the floor.
Bowman: Yes. And they do not have the same amendments that the House has.
Leahy: This is a common story. When will the State Senate vote on it?
Bowman: Well, they’re going to vote, I think, either today, tomorrow or at some point. It looks like this week, and they may wrap up this week. I don’t know if they come back next week or not. The legislature.
Leahy: It may be over this week.
Bowman: It could be over this week. So here’s the thing. It gets out of the House, the Senate will pass their version, and then what will happen is the House will try to, probably my guess, and the most people I’ve talked to is that Chairman White will move to conform and adopt the Senate version of it, which will not include the amendments that the House put on it.
Leahy: You’re talking about Chairman Mark White from the Memphis area.
Leahy: We’ve had him on the program. He’s a friend.
Bowman: He’s a nice man.
Leahy: Nice guy. We’ve pressed him on a couple of things, particularly having to do more with school choice and telling the U.S. Department of Education to keep its money and not try to pull strings here.
He’s actually been surprisingly open to that concept. To us, this is a concept we keep pounding on (chuckles) every time we talk with a member of the Tennessee General Assembly.
Bowman: This would probably be a year that you probably could have done some of this stuff and start disentangling some of the federal dollars, which I think actually frees up money for districts.
I mean, there’s a lot of requirements, Michael, that our state and district have put on them by taking federal dollars. There’s a lot of accountability and checks and balances.
Leahy: This is interesting that you mention this. Generally speaking, when you look at the financing of public education and I think it’s the case here in Tennessee, K-12 public education typically is financed about 50 percent.
When you look at all districts, about 50 percent by the state, 40 percent by the local governments, and about 10 percent by the federal government.
Now, I’ve not done the study, but I’ve often thought that probably at least half of that federal money is tied up in compliance with federal rules.
And you’re suggesting that, maybe not a specific number, but you’re suggesting that there are a lot of costs associated with complying with federal regulations to get that 10 percent of the money. Is that true?
Bowman: Absolutely, and I’m not sure we don’t spend more than we receive. I think it’s got to be close. There are all the checks, balances, and boxes that we have to check off, that I think that it puts a lot of work on districts, particularly rural districts. These guys have to wear multiple hats.
Leahy: Now we need to find a think tank that will do that analysis. Are you familiar with anybody that’s actually analyzed the cost of complying with these federal regulations to get the money?
Bowman: I think you’ve had Heritage in the past.
Leahy: They’ve looked at that?
Bowman: And they found that the amount of money that’s been spent, you’ve got to look at groups like CATO, Reason, some of those groups out there that would be willing to look at it.
Reason, in my opinion, has gotten into the tank. They’re very supportive of all these ideas, which just fall in the face of 25 years of differing.
Leahy: Reason, the libertarian group.
Bowman: Yes, out in California.
Leahy: They’ve California-ized, the libertarian approach.
Bowman: They’re all over this TISA bill.
Leahy: They like it?
Bowman: They love it.
Leahy: Reason loves it.
Leahy: Have they lost their reason?
Bowman: Well, they suspect, and most people believe, that in the end that this is going to lead to vouchers. Now, the governor has clearly said this is not a voucher bill. Now he said that, and I go like, all right, well, if you say that’s not the case, then put it in the bill. Whatever needs to be done.
If you’re going to say this is this, then … just for truth and openness, if you’re going to say this is what this bill does, then say this is what this bill and do it. Don’t try to sneak things in and try to deceive people, because at the end of the day, you end up paying for that.
Leahy: So let’s talk about the bill. This particular bill, the TISA bill, Tennessee Investment and Student Achievement. It’s going to be heard in the Tennessee House of Representatives Finance Committee today.
Leahy: Do you expect it will pass that committee today?
Bowman: I do.
Leahy: With some amendments.
Bowman: I don’t know the amendments they are keeping on it. They’ve taken amendments off in the past, so it may be a move to take some off now.
Let the Senate take the rest off. There may be some to keep them on there. Reading some of these, you never know what’s going on, or what happens overnight.
Leahy: If this bill passes out of the finance committee today, as you expect it to, then it’s ready to go to a floor vote, and then what you think is going to happen is the State Senate is going to pass their own version of TISA in the next couple of days.
Bowman: Very few amendments.
Leahy: And then they’ll send it over to the House. And you believe that the House is going to conform to the Senate version and pass it this week sometime?
Bowman: That’s exactly what I think will happen.
Leahy: What will the final votes be in the State Senate and the House on it?
Bowman: Senate, probably 26 to 7 and 7 against, maybe less. I think in the House it may be 60/40.
Listen to the interview:
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