Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said Saturday that as governor he’d reject federal Race to the Top funds for state education if the money comes with requirements from Washington, D.C.that it be spent in specific ways.
“I hope and pray this Race to the Top money doesn’t have strings attached to it. If it does, and I’m governor, we’re not going to take it,” Ramsey said.
He said the funds should be used in non-recurring ways, such as putting it toward teacher and principal training.
Ramsey, who is seeking the Republican nomination to replace Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, was speaking at a meeting in Franklin of the Professional Educators of Tennessee, an organization that offers teachers an alternative to joining a teachers union. The lieutenant governor said he is feeling much relieved now that the legislative session is over and he can concentrate on primary election campaigning
Other speakers at the meeting included Republican candidate Zach Wamp, Democrat hopeful Mike McWherter and independent candidates Bayron Binkley, Samuel Duck and Brandon Dodds.
Bredesen led the charge for the Race to the Top funds, and the federal government surprised Tennessee by granting the state $500 million, an amount the state wanted and applied for but did not expect to receive in full. The state had expected a much lower figure if it won. Only one other state, Delaware, won Race to the Top funds in the first of two rounds in the contest and was awarded roughly $100 million.
Ramsey told the group the Race to the Top funds were greatly due to the intense amount of work the Legislature put in during its special session on education in January.
Ramsey spoke highly of the effort in the special session and explained that he knew the subject of teacher evaluations was controversial but supported changes in the evaluation process. The reform effort was intended to help put together a strong application for the federal funds.
Ramsey said the special session was an example of “the way government ought to work.”
“This is not about some mass firing of teachers, but it is a tool we can use to help teachers,” Ramsey said. “In the end, this will work out. It will be fine.”
Ramsey was in full campaign mode and he became passionate when the issue of federal intervention rose.
“At first I thought this administration we have now was just incompetent. But now I think it’s conniving,” Ramsey said. “You don’t borrow $1.4 trillion one year, $1.6 trillion the next year and expect our country to stay the same. It’s not going to happen.
“I hope to have grandkids soon. There’s no way our kids can have the same world to grow up in that I did if we keep heading in this direction. It’s impossible.”
He said governors need to push back against the federal government.
“This is revolutionary,” Ramsey said. “I don’t mean like march on Washington, D.C., revolutionary. I mean revolutionary in the sense that I don’t think states have ever pushed back. We’ve never been in this position before.”
Wamp said a group like the Professional Educators of Tennessee deserves to have a voice in decision-making on education. He used the opportunity to state his case about the importance of early childhood reading and emphasized the importance of health issues among children.
“The truth is you are getting a product that requires you to be in law enforcement and psychology and everything across the spectrum instead of the ability to just educate the children based on you getting a decent product,” Wamp told the group.
McWherter tied education to the mission of creating more jobs in the state. He said he recognizes the importance of providing the resources necessary to teach children. He also lauded the Bredesen administration for landing the Race to the Top grant monies.
The primary is Aug. 5. The general election is Nov. 2.