December 8, 2021

Tennessee House approves Common Core delay

In tense floor fight, House votes to delay program and testing

Houstyn Lehman, 5, works on math as she waits for her mother in the gallery of the state House of Representatives. The House voted to freeze Common Core standards.

NAS-Common Core Thursday

Tennessee lawmakers voted to delay the Common Core education program for two years, as opponents staged an ambush Thursday morning on the floor of the state House.

A coalition of Republican and Democratic lawmakers used an unrelated bill on American government to force a reckoning on the controversial new teaching standards. Lawmakers voted 82-11 to freeze in place Common Core, which has been rolling out gradually over the past three years, and put off new testing that goes with the program until the 2016-17 school year.

“Let’s get it right,” said House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, who led the fight. “We’re just moving too fast.”

The vote served as a rebuke of Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, who have pressed ahead with Common Core. They argue the standards are needed to bring Tennessee’s public school system up to speed with those in other states.

The day before the vote, Haslam sent lawmakers a letter urging them not to unravel the standards or delay the testing. To do so, he wrote, “would be a disruptive and costly endeavor for the state as well as the districts, schools and teachers that have been implementing the standards for some time.”

The governor took a more measured approach after the vote.

“Today’s votes are one step in the legislative process, and we will review the amendments to assess their impact,” said David Smith, a spokesman for Haslam. “Tennessee has come too far to go backward. The governor will continue to stand up for higher standards and relevant testing of those standards.”

The Haslam administration still has time to defeat the legislation, which now goes to the state Senate.

Late amendments


The floor fight began to take shape Wednesday night, when opponents of Common Core filed two dozen late amendments to House Bill 1129, a measure filed by state Rep. Timothy Hill that required schools to teach the “values of American government,” including the U.S. Constitution.

Opponents coalesced around a pair of amendments filed by Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, that would freeze Common Core implementation where it stands now until July 1, 2016. The amendments would block new science and social studies standards, as well as new standardized tests, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career exams. Math and language arts standards would remain in place.

Some foes plan to press for full repeal of the standards.

“We have to stay diligent,” said Karen Bracken, founder of Tennessee Against Common Core. “It’s not what we want, but it’s more than we expected today. We’re very happy.”

The debate on the floor was tense, as long-simmering frustrations bubbled over. Critics of Common Core have complained that House leaders have waited too long to schedule debates on the education program.

The votes that have taken place have ended with Common Core opponents on the losing end. As recently as Wednesday night, the Senate Education Committee defeated anti-Common Core legislation on a 7-2 vote.

Common Core’s backers attempted to rally supporters as they got wind of the budding fight, but this time they were at a disadvantage. State Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, accused Common Core opponents of using “shenanigans” to get the issue to the floor. His face flushing with anger, he demanded that Hill fulfill a promise to pull the bill off the floor if attempts were made to amend it.

Hill slammed his fist and briefly acted like he would yank the bill. That prompted shouts from the legislators in his corner that he not back down. The exchange demonstrated the strength of Common Core opposition.

House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, sat out the fight. She told reporters later that she did not want to vote on hastily filed amendments that she had not had time to study, but she also decided not to stand in opponents’ way.

“Those members have the right to bring amendments on the floor,” she said, “and they did so.”