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Too early to say, but little evidence Huffman will leave Tennessee

“How long will Kevin Huffman stay in Nashville?” Tennessean reporter Joey Garrison asks in an article today.

Garrison’s answer? Despite Huffman’s unpopularity with groups of legislators, superintendents, and parents, Tennessee education commissioner Huffman will probably stay in his job at least until after Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s likely re-election in November.

Huffman has been barraged with criticism this year, ranging from a letter in the fall from 60 Tennessee superintendents criticizing lack of communication with administrators on the local level, to a letter from 15 GOP representatives last week demanding his resignation due to a delay in the release of TCAP scores. The GOP representatives say the hold-up in the release of the state standardized test results violated state law, and implies manipulation of the scores.

Not only are many calling for Huffman’s ouster, there are persistent rumors in the capitol that Huffman wants to leave of his own accord, Sen. Frank Niceley, a Republican from Strawberry Plains, told Chalkbeat. A former administrator at Teach For America, Huffman is a celebrity on the national education scene, and his reputation has been bolstered by Tennessee’s marked improvement on national assessments during his tenure, making him a possible candidate for education jobs nationwide.

But there’s no evidence Huffman will leave Tennessee if Gov. Bill Haslam is reelected in the fall — at least not before the election.

The Tennesseean reports:

“Lacking credible election challengers, Haslam has little need to worry about Huffman becoming a campaign liability. A leadership transition now also could give the appearance of bending to critics, a position no politician desires. Instead, if there is an exit in the coming year, some observers believe it probably would come after the governor’s presumed re-election in November.”

And if he does leave, it might be because “the right opportunity sways him,” not because of criticism. Although Huffman is certainly controversial, as Gov. Haslam concedes, only 15 of 97 Republican Tennessee legislators signed last week’s letter, and many are vocally supportive of the commissioner. The Tennessean reports the Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell, of Nashville, said last week that she supports Huffman and is proud of his accomplishments.

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