State Rep. Scott Cepicky on Bringing Common Sense to The Third-Grade Retention Law

Mar 14, 2023

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 State Representative Scott Cepicky (R-TN-Culleoka) in studio to discuss legislation victory with TennCare and bringing common sense to third-grade retention law.

Leahy: Tennessee State Representative Scott Cepicky is here with us right now. Scott, a busy day for you. You are going to leave our studios here and head up to the Capitol.

Cepicky: Ten bills up this week. Six today.

Leahy: Tell us about the most important of those bills.

Cepicky: There are two bills that are very near and dear to my heart. The first one is our MCO bill with TennCare. We got our TennCare block grant from the federal government, where basically they block grant the money down for us.

They let us administer TennCare the way we see fit. And then what we do is we share the savings and we split it 50/50. The savings we’re sending back this year is $300 million.

Leahy: Congratulations.

Cepicky: We have $300 million now more that we can put into TennCare to increase the number of people that are on TennCare and provide better coverage and better healthcare for them. What we envisioned working is actually working, where now we can expand Medicare under our terms and provide better healthcare for those that are not the ones that need the most. I have a bill right now where we have three MCOs, the people that dole out the TennCare money.

Leahy: What is an MCO?

Cepicky: Medical care organization. Basically, we give money from the state to a Blue Cross Blue Shield. And then they have providers that partner with them to provide the TennCare healthcare and then the MCO pays them. We’ve been limited to three forever. You’ve got to bring competition to the marketplace. And so I’ve been working with Speaker Sexton on a bill.

And what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna make Tennessee an application state like most states are, whereas if you were an insurance company and you wanna become an MCO in Tennessee and you meet the criteria for it, then we would approve you to become an MCO, and you can start to handle some of the TennCare patients.

And if you provide better service, you provide better payments, quicker payments, and quicker response times to the providers they’re going choose you, which brings competition to the marketplace in healthcare. Now we have, but now we have people competing for the business.

Leahy: It sounds like a worthwhile bill. Where is that stand now? Is it in a committee?

Cepicky: Yes. It’ll be heard today this morning at, I think it’s at 10:30 in the insurance subcommittee.

Leahy: And who is the chairman of that?

Cepicky: Chairman Esther Helton. Hopefully, Chairman Helton and the rest of that committee will understand the need for this and we’ll pass that bill.

Leahy: That’s your number one priority. What is number two?

Cepicky: And number two, the big one is the third-grade retention bill that Chairman White has.

Leahy: The third-grade retention bill. Ah, yes.

Cepicky: And I’ll be carrying that on behalf of the chairman of education in the house. Senator Lundberg will be carrying it in the Senate. And it’s the compromise that we’ve reached on trying to make sure that we’re not being overly heavy-handed, but we’re being, what’s the word I’m looking for? Common sense. We’re trying to bring some common sense into third-grade retention.

Leahy: So describe what the current law is and then what this bill would do that would change that current law.

Cepicky: Got it. So the third-grade retention bill, in a nutshell, says that if you failed a third-grade TCAP test and if you are in the approaching category, you either have the option of going to summer or taking a tutor for fourth grade and you can move on to the next grade level.

If you are in the below category, those are children that are normally one or more years academically behind, then you have to go to summer school and you have to attend, 90 percent of the time, you have to show improvement, and you have to take a tutor the following year to make sure that you get caught up in fourth grade. That’s basically the gist of it right now.

And one of the things that we’ve gotten a lot of complaints of from the educators is that sometimes you have kids that take a bad test, it’s a stressful test. And it’s a long test, they’re not prepared for it, and they wanted another data point. And so what we’ve worked the bill up and is a compromise is we do universal screeners.

So the kids take these three benchmarks throughout the year to monitor their progress. We’ll be proposing this to the K-12 subcommittee, Chairman Hastings committee today, is that if you are a student, that scores in the approaching now, this is only the approaching kids, the kids that are close.

Leahy: They aren’t at grade level, but they’re close to grade level.

Cepicky: They’re close. And what we’re gonna do is if, on that last benchmark, they take normally right about now, if you give the state-provided benchmark, the state-provided one so we get uniformity across the state, and you proctor it like a test. Because now, on the universal screeners, teachers help the kids.

So if you use the state test and you proctor it as a test and the student scores in the 50th percentile or higher, you can use that plus the approaching on TCAP plus making sure that they have all of the support in fourth grade, you can move them forward.

That’s one of the exceptions we’re making. The other exception we’re making is who can file for an appeal. We have an appeal process that a parent can put forward. But the problem is most parents don’t understand how to navigate the paperwork of education.

Leahy: My head is already spinning as you’ve described this. (Laughs)

Cepicky: It’s okay. That’s my job to explain it. What we’re gonna do is we’re gonna allow the school system, if a parent says, hold on, my kid is on grade level, I can prove it.

I wanna appeal this decision and ask for a waiver from the department. The schools can help gather the information and submit that waiver on behalf of the parents, but the parents have to initiate it.

Leahy: And this is a compromise that state representative Mark White has put together with others?

Cepicky: Yes. We’ve all worked with the Senate, worked with the governor, trying to figure it out.

Leahy: A whole bunch of folks have worked on it. Mark White is from Germantown. He’s the head of the Education Administration Committee. He’s been a teacher of science? Now he’s with Lipscomb.

Cepicky: Yes. Teaching a leadership course. I think he’s teaching a leadership course here.

Leahy: Interesting. So now, my whole view on that has been, and I know you’re a supporter of direct instruction, and one of the things that I’ve said is that the system doesn’t work very well right now.

And I certainly wish you luck with this compromised bill on third-grade retention, but I have an even bigger view of it, I think. It’s sort of like saying, this system that we have right now has led to two-thirds of kids in third grade not being able to read, write, and do arithmetic at grade level. And so the answer is let’s do more of that. I look at it and say, no, I think maybe we need a bigger change to look at. But that’s for another day. Don’t you think?

Cepicky: The problem we have is we have a million kids in our public school system. So you’re never going to charter your way out of that. You’re never going private school your way out of that.

You’re never going to homeschool your way out of those million kids. No matter what happens, if charters with private schools, with home schools, you’re still gonna have the bulk of these kids in public school education.

Leahy: So right now I think if you look at it you got a million in Tennessee, you got a million kids K-12, and maybe 50,000 in private schools.

Cepicky: Ballpark, yes.

Leahy: Or maybe a little bit more than that.

Cepicky: Less than that.

Leahy: Less than a 100,000. And I don’t know; there’s maybe what, 10,000 in the charter schools that have just been that started?

Cepicky: Yes.

Leahy: So even if you were to increase by tenfold charter schools, you’d still only get up to…

Cepicky: 20 percent, maybe.

Leahy: Maximum. So you still have 80 percent of the kids that are gonna be in the K-12 public school system. That would be your argument.

Listen to today’s show highlights, including this interview:

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Reporwith Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Scott Cepicky” by State Representative Scott Cepicky. Background Photo “Classroom” by Wokandapix.