Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey addressed the Rotary Club of Cleveland Tuesday afternoon about recent successes in the state and the challenges still ahead.
“There are a couple of things I am really proud of,” Ramsey told the gathered Rotarians. “First of all, we don’t owe a lot of money in the state of Tennessee. If we borrow money, we literally do it like you would want us to.”
According to Ramsey, 11 percent of the total cost of any project paid with borrowed money is placed in the budget each year until the debt is met. Five percent pays off the principal of the cost. Six percent covers the reoccurring interest.
Ramsey pointed out the state maintains a 6 percent interest payoff in spite of the opportunity to go lower and quipped, “We do something very unique in government. When we borrow money, we pay it off.”
A study completed by George Mason University labeled Tennessee as the most free state following the Dakotas, in terms of regulatory and fiscal policy.
He attributed the success of Tennessee to a variety of factors, including the legislators working in Nashville.
However, he pointed out one area the state has lagged behind in is education. The Memphis school system has received particular attention for a variety of issues, from low grades to poor teaching. Teacher evaluation reports from the city revealed some schools only had teachers rated at the lowest level, 1 out of 5.
The response from Nashville has been discussion over providing vouchers and/or scholarships. Public schools receive a certain amount of tax money per pupil. These individual funds will be used to subsidize the vouchers. According to Ramsey, vouchers would allow parents to choose whether to keep their students in the public school system or use the money toward private school tuition.
Added Ramsey, “It is just wrong we can look at a Memphis area school or Davidson [County] area school and know by the zip code a child is born into whether they are going to be successful or not.”
Some legislators purportedly do not believe healthy school districts will be affected by the voucher system. Ramsey boasted his area of Bristol, Kingsport and Sullivan County would not have even 100 students take out a voucher.
Rotarian and Director of City Schools Dr. Martin Ringstaff voiced his opinion on vouchers, following Ramsey’s presentation.
“The question on vouchers that makes us nervous is we are OK with the lower 5 percent in the state [receiving vouchers],” Ringstaff said. “The theory is it will start expanding once it is law.”
Ramsey suggested it would be difficult to limit the voucher system to the bottom 5 percent.
He explained the difficulty is two parties, the state Senate and the governor, are at conflicting ends of the spectrum. A median will have to be settled on between the two.
Growing interest by manufacturers like Volkswagen and Wacker have increased the drive toward providing an educated workforce.
“I do think if we want to recruit [manufacturers] then we can’t keep doing things like we have always done them and expect different results. I think it was Albert Einstein who said that the definition of insanity is to continue doing things like you always have and expect different results,” Ramsey said. “We have been controversial. We’ve been groundbreaking, thought outside of the box on things we’ve done on education.”
He said these included modifying teacher tenure, applying teacher evaluations and ending collective bargaining.
Legislators were able to conclude their work in April to leave Nashville earlier than they have in previous years. Ramsey insisted this did not mean they were leaving prematurely.
“One thing I am big on is getting your work done and going home,” Ramsey said. “I’ve been there in July, folks. I’ve been there in August. That is ridiculous.”
“We set a goal to get out, and get out on time. We are not getting out early, we are getting out on time.”