The special session of the legislature that concluded tonight, technically with an adjournment scheduled for Monday, might have looked like a pre-conceived, slam-dunk, two-week operation. But that wasn’t entirely the case.
Some insight offered by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, along the way showed this wasn’t merely a glorified process where work was a formality and honchos behind the scenes ran the show, even though lawmakers essentially delivered reforms in K-12 and higher education as expected, with overwhelming votes of approval.
For starters, it was refreshing to hear a lawmaker say he actually learned something from a speech by a governor. After Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen prodded the legislature to action in his speech Jan. 12, Ramsey, a candidate for governor, said right off the bat he heard something new.
“I thought the governor gave an interesting statistic that I had not heard, that out of 100 students who graduate from high school, 44 go to college but only 19 of those graduate,” Ramsey said.
It was interesting enough to Ramsey that he repeated the statistics two nights later in a televised forum, where there wasn’t a lot of time to speak. The figures did seem to jump out in a speech filled with valuable information.
Actually, Bredesen’s specific numbers, looking at a printed version of the speech, are that for every 100 students, 43 go to college, and 19 graduate, and 44 percent graduate from four-year schools. But Ramsey’s point was on target, and the numbers told the story of the impetus behind the last two weeks. Lawmakers saw a need to act. They did so, swiftly and decisively.
And then there was the Frist factor. Given former U.S. senator Bill Frist’s work on education reform through SCORE, the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, one might suppose he could have walked up to the Republican-majority legislature and dictated whatever he wanted them to do in a bill on K-12 education. Such a supposition would be mistaken. Ramsey said he and Frist were clear on the parameters from the start.
“When Senator Frist first started this collaborative, I asked him to my office,” Ramsey said. “I sat down with him, and I said we don’t need some pie-in-the-sky idea that’s going to cost $1 billion. That’s not going to happen.
“I told him to come back to us with some legitimate ideas, and we’ll see what we can do. And I think we’ve done just that.”
Frist, characteristically, went to Haiti this week to help in the earthquake recovery mission. But he issued a message through SCORE today noting the legislature’s work, the Race to the Top application for federal funds submitted Tuesday and that a number of the provisions in the special session reflected recommendations from his group.
Frist’s statement today read, “The hardest work still remains as educators, parents and community leaders begin working to implement the vision of SCORE’s final report and the state’s Race to the Top application. I look forward to working with each of you over the coming weeks, months and years to make these visions a reality and to make Tennessee schools No. 1 in the Southeast.”