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Common Core bill awaits governor’s signature after passage in legislature

House Speaker Beth Harwell leads a news conference attended by House members to celebrate the passage of Common Core legislation.
House Speaker Beth Harwell leads a news conference attended by House members to celebrate the passage of Common Core legislation.
G. Tatter

While debate over use of the Common Core in Tennessee schools entered the state legislature like a lion, it went out like a lamb Tuesday as the Senate easily approved a compromise bill and sent the measure to the governor’s desk for his signature.

The Senate passed the bill 27-3, one day after the legislation was approved unanimously in the House.

When the 109th Tennessee General Assembly convened in January, Common Core was a divisive topic, with many predicting the death knell for the much-debated academic standards for math and language arts. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) all but predicted that Common Core would be scrapped this year. But Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration and professional educator groups repeatedly urged lawmakers to stay the course and let the administration’s existing review of the controversial standards play out.

In the end, one bill managed to please both the ardent Common Core supporters, who believe a new era of academic rigor in Tennessee’s schools began when the standards were adopted in 2010 by the state Board of Education, and those just as passionately against, who believe the standards should have been homegrown instead of adopted from a nationwide standards initiative.

The measure pledges to “repeal Common Core,” but in an unhurried process and without stipulating that new standards be markedly different from the current ones. It also adds a layer of legislative review by allowing legislative leaders to appoint members to a committee in the review process launched last fall by the Haslam administration.

Rep. Billy Spivey (R-Lewisburg), the House sponsor who collaborated with the governor, state Department of Education officials, and other lawmakers to craft the compromise, said the standards created by the review process would not go into effect until 2017-2018, in deference to teachers and students who will undergo the transition.

Speaking at a news conference following the Senate vote, he emphasized that the bill is not about the standards per se, but about the review process. “We needed to take folks like me that don’t know anything about standards out of the development and standards writing,” Spivey said.

Spivey also emphasized that the new academic standards should be unique to Tennessee, though he was unsure how different they would be from the Common Core.

Rep. Billy Spivey
Rep. Billy Spivey
TN.gov

“When we’re talking about children, I think using the word ‘common’ is a little bit contradictory to what we would all want,” he said. “I have six daughters, and none of them are very common to each other; they’re all individuals. I think Tennessee is uncommon.”

Still, Spivey thanked Americans for Prosperity for helping to shape the bill. The national conservative advocacy group founded by the billionaire Koch brothers has avidly campaigned against Common Core. Andrew Ogle, the group’s state director, stood behind Spivey during the news conference.

“I just wanted to thank the legislature,” Ogle said. “If anyone ever questions whether or not government works, this is testimony that it does.”

Haslam is expected to sign the bill into law. The second-term governor, who made the rollout of the Common Core a lynchpin of his first-term education agenda, said he approved of the revised review process hammered out by Spivey. “My primary concern was that the process be conducted in an orderly way so that our educators knew what to prepare for, and I think that we have that process in place,” Haslam told reporters Tuesday.

After the Senate vote, Common Core supporters maintained that the legislation was unnecessary, though it was at least tempered in its approach to repeal.

Follow the status of education-related bills in the 109th Tennessee General Assembly.
Follow the status of education-related bills in the 109th Tennessee General Assembly.

“Tennessee’s educators have clearly said that to maintain this momentum, teachers and students need stability on standards and a new assessment that works with those standards,” said David Mansouri, executive vice president of the State Collaborative for Reforming Education (SCORE), an education advocacy group founded by former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

Tennessee is not the only state to attempt replacing the standards through legislative-appointed review committees. Tensions are running so high in a Missouri committee that the panel split, The Associated Press reported on Monday.

Contact Grace Tatter at gtatter@chalkbeat.org.

Follow us on Twitter: @GraceTatter, @chalkbeattn.

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