Tennessee Rep. Mike Sparks Discusses the Opportunity Scholarships Program Bill and Irresponsible Spending


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 Tennessee State Representative (R) Mike Sparks of Smyrna to the studio to discuss his newly proposed opportunity scholarships program bill that would allow students the ability to go to the school of their choice.

Leahy: We are joined in studio by a courageous driver. State Representative Mike Sparks from Smyrna. Mike before the break we talked about this great bill that you have introduced to the general assembly. It’s called the opportunity scholarships program.

Sparks: Yes.

Leahy: It creates a scholarship program for students who reside in certain local education agencies.

Sparks: Yes.

Leahy: With a minimum average growth of that’s what they call school districts now, right?

Sparks: LEAs.

Leahy: LEA’s with a minimum average growth of two percent in average daily membership over the previous five fiscal years to attend certain eligible private schools.

Sparks: Yes.

Leahy: Now tell us about this bill.

Sparks: Well, you know if I can back up, I was a former county commissioner before I ran for the state.

Leahy: In Rutherford County.

Sparks: Yes, sir. I learned a lot at the local level.

Leahy: How long did you serve on the Rutherford County Commission?

Sparks: I was there eight years.

Leahy: Now if I can just stop for a minute and ask about being on the county commission. So I live in Williamson County. And I’ve gone to a couple of county commission meetings. Covered it and reported on it. And there’s I think there’s like 20 some odd 24 members of the commission they said and they when they have their meetings those are long meetings.

Sparks: Yes.

Leahy: You’re smiling at me. They are long they are and you know that it really is a sacrifice it is for anybody to serve on a County Commission. Now there is some power there and there’s the ability to do some good but there’s a lot of work. I mean, it’s probably about two cents an hour.

Sparks: They don’t make much money.

Leahy: So you did that for eight years?

Sparks: I was on the Smyrna planning committee for nine years and under the leadership of Mayor Bob Spivey. We were talking about mentors off-air and I consider Bob a mentor. Sadly he’s passed away now.

Leahy: So you’re going to reference your experience in the County Commission having to do with education. What did you learn there?

Sparks: Well, it’s you know, it’s frustrating for me and you and I off-air and we’re talking about, you know, some of your friends and I said, how did you turn out as you did? And I said small business.

Leahy: Yeah, so to bring everybody up to speed. We’ve been talking off the air about the fact that the left does not want to engage in discussion.

Sparks: Yes.

Leahy: They basically if you if you have an alternative view basically immediately, you’re a racist or a bad person.

Sparks: They’ll attack you.

Leahy: Or you are evil.

Sparks: Or you hate children or something.

Leahy: That is exactly my experience. I went to an Ivy League college and business school and a lot of my friends from years ago are out there and have been very successful. Once a week I call them to say how are you doing? And they are almost all left-wingers now. I start the conversations and the minute I say I’m a conservative talk radio host or I write for Breitbart, zoom! The conversation is over and they start to call me an evil person. I can be cantankerous but I don’t think I’m evil.

Sparks: Isn’t it kind of lonely?

Leahy: No. It’s not. And I’ll tell you why.

Sparks: I feel it’s lonely to me.

Leahy: It’s not lonely to me because 99 percent of the people in our vast listening audience agree with you. And the reason it’s not lonely for me is that I just have a different set of friends now. I have a lot of friends. Fantastic people like at Breitbart. Andrew Breitbart before he passed away and Steve Bannon great friend of mine.

He also went to Harvard Business School. I went to Stanford Business School. So he has a similar experience. And then also the guys at Breitbart. Joe Pollock. Harvard undergrad Harvard Law. He’s a very good writer in that regard. And then here, Ben Shapiro another Harvard Law School graduate.

Sparks: Oh yes. Brilliant guy.

Leahy: He’s so brilliant Mike that he realized it was time to leave Los Angeles and he’s moved here to Nashville and The Daily Wire is now here and they’re doing great stuff. As soon as we can get this COVID stuff lifted we’ve promised that we’re going to have a party to welcome all the conservatives coming to Nashville. Isn’t that cool or what it is very cool. This is the center of conservative media now Nashville, Tennessee. By the way Mike we started it here when we started The Tennessee Star four years ago.

Sparks: I thank you for that.

Leahy: Now Mike you’re talking a little bit about this education bill and your experience.

Sparks: Well as a former county commissioner, you know, we one of the things that one of the biggest issue budget issues as education and building schools, and I’d often hear folks complain that kids are in portables. When I was growing up we had some portables. And I said well, why don’t we just encourage people if they want to go to a private school and if they want to home-school to find a way to encourage them if they want to. It is a relief valve if you will to a lot of the growth. Our county is growing just leaps and bounds and it’s crazy.

Leahy: Are you seeing in Rutherford County the same number of refugees from California and Illinois and New York that we are in Williamson County and Davidson?

Sparks: Yes and you know what’s sad? I mean in a way there are some good things. Like I see corporations that have moved to my district right there in La Vergne where they are from California and they were very gracious. We set up a big tour with the local mayors and about all 40 constituents come out and so they have a big plant there. We’ve seen other companies but we got

Leahy: We should go and do a story on.

Sparks: Let’s just set it up and it’s a little cold for an icy right now, but do it in July more time.

Leahy: We’ll do it in July.

Sparks: And they’re there but they’re very gracious. But you know what? The model that I get upset up with is doing the same old thing over and over and over and over expecting different results. And I’ve seen that in higher education the same way when I first brought the tuition debt it was a trillion dollars, Michael. That was about seven years ago.

Now it’s $1.8 trillion. It will soon double in probably three years. The status quo system is stuck in place textbooks at $250 dollars. Why? You’ve wrote books. I’ve wrote books. I got a commission check from Australia while back for a dollar to for a $2.99 ebook. Well, here’s the thing about it. The former Chancellor, I put them on the spot one day at a big meeting. I was like, what are y’all doing about this?

Leahy: Which chancellor?

Sparks: Well I’m not going to say his name here. He’s a nice guy who’s a former chancellor of the Tennessee system.

Leahy: UT system?

Sparks: The Tennessee system yes. And  I said what are you doing about the affordability of textbooks? And he said representative, I don’t have an answer for you. I said, man, you’re the Chancellor dude. You are the Chancellor and you don’t have an answer.

Leahy: Did you say it that way? Did you say man?

Sparks: I probably did. Bue here’s the irony speaking of how lonely it can be. I’m at this conference table with all the top brass and I’m like, you know, I haven’t finished my degree at the time I said all y’all have Doctorate degrees and graduate degrees, and you’re not even having the discussion.

Leahy: Yes.

Sparks: So you now you follow my logic? Talk about how lonely it is. Fortunately, I’ve finished my degree in the graduate communications area over there. And MTSU has been good to me. I’m not trying to knock them but that paradigm, we’ve got to step out of that paradigm. The same thing at the county commission and at the city. City’s sometimes are a little bit more outside the box. We’ve got a great town manager named Brian Hercules who does an awesome job. We’ve got record investment there.

Leahy: How could you not do an awesome job with a name like Brian Hercules?

Sparks: Oh, I know. (Leahy laughs) I was calling Bruce at one time and he got mad. I thought that name was Bruce because it made me think of Hercules. He’s done a great job and brought a lot of great things happening in the Smyrna-Lavergne community. But what would frustrate me is you watch the school budget grow and grow and grow.

And Rutherford County brought this up two weeks ago when we met with their steering committee. And Chairman of Craig Harris and Mayor Ketron has always been very supportive and open to this bill. But the latest high school was $72 million they just built. 72 million for a high school. The next projected High School is $108 million.

Leahy: There’s something wrong with that because they’re spending so much money on the building and we’re turning out students who do not understand the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic and don’t understand the Constitution. What’s wrong with that picture?

Sparks: Yes, something’s wrong with it. Seriously.

Listen to the full first 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












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