Newsletter #112 – Common Core: Haslam Also Has a Pen & a Phone

Obama’s pen might be fancier and his phone smarter, but when it comes to Common Core, Governor Haslam also has tools for unilateral rule in Tennessee.  They are known as the TN Chamber of Commerce and Speaker Beth Harwell.

This year, education bills seem to have taken over the Tennessee State Legislature.  At least nine bills have been filed dealing with the Common Core standards, the PARCC assessments and disclosure of student data.  Some deal with Common Core head-on while others deal with some of its tentacles that constitute the Governor’s education reform for the state.

The PARCC is the testing assessment that is aligned to the Common Core standards.  Governor Haslam’s Commissioner of Education, Kevin Huffman is on PARCC’s Governing Board.  It’s understandable then that the administration opposes bills like HB1696, HB1826 or HB1828, any of which would obstruct the use of PARCC in Tennessee.

Bills HB1825 and HB2332 simply aim to stop Common Core in Tennessee. HB2290 addresses the cost issues associated with implementing Common Core and PARCC testing.

One bill was filed on January 21, three were filed on January 22, one was filed on January 30, and one was filed on February 4th.  All six bills have arbitrarily been moved to the very last calendar of the House Education Subcommittee.

What makes this decision appear arbitrary, unusual and Obamaesque in its unilateral (ab)use of discretion, is that Tennessee used to have representative government, complete with all three branches.  And Rep. Harry Brooks, Chairman of the House Education Committee, even said at the very beginning of February that, “lawmakers could start debating the Common Core bills as early as next week.”  Why didn’t this happen?  Does that mean that Subcommittee Chair Rep. Mark White is simply following orders from higher up?

The decision to delay these bills is VERY significant.  First off, these bills have to go through the subcommittee, the full committee, finance committee, calendar and rules committee and then to the House floor before and if they can become law.  Then of course, they have to go to the Governor who can either sign the bill into law, not sign but let it become law without his signature, or veto the bill.  A vetoed bill can go back to the legislature for a vote override, but only if the legislature is still in session and can vote and hasn’t been adjourned for the year.

Will this allow Haslam to subvert the legislative process? Timing really is everything.

Is this the process that the state’s political leadership has set up?  Surely the Governor’s support for Common Core and his personal stamp of approval on PARCC wouldn’t influence the process???  What about the $400,000 Gates Foundation grant (bribe?) to the TN Chamber of Commerce to push for Common Core?  Will Chamber of Commerce lobbyist David McMahan and his business partner, Leslie Hafner who is Haslam’s director for legislation (oh really?) be upset if these bills were allowed fair hearing and fair procedural treatment?  Probably.

What Could Speaker Beth Harwell Do?

The Speaker of the House is a very powerful position.  The Speaker appoints the House committees and the officers of the committees.  The House Rules even allow her to set up additional committee meeting times if warranted, especially in the case of controversial bills like these.  Speaker Harwell showed up in a committee hearing to ensure that wine-in-grocery-stores, got passed.

It’s a fair guess that Speaker Harwell could “persuade” House Education Chairman Rep. Harry Brooks to move the Common Core bills up from the last calendar date to ensure sufficient time for hearing, possible passage, and a Governor’s veto override, if necessary.

Tennesseans who understand the Common Core debate oppose it two-to-one.  The cost to implement it is forcing local school districts, including Speaker Harwell’s district to borrow the money for it.  It imposes a disproportionate burden on the rural school districts. But with elections coming up, Speaker Harwell may have priorities other than ensuring full and fair process and the representation of Tennessee citizens.

Not long ago, Haslam attended a White House dinner.  Is that where Obama showed Haslam how to use a pen and phone?