House hijacks bill to slow down Common Core, PARCC tests

Vote seen as a slap at Haslam, Huffman

In a show of fireworks and parliamentary questions, a faction Republicans and Democrats ganged up on the rest of the majority to slow down Common Core and its related testing.

The House ultimately voted 82-11 to delay any further implementation of Common Core, a set of education standards now rolled out statewide in all grades. The bill would also put off replacing the annual TCAP exam with PARCC, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

Approval of the bill is a slap in the face of the Haslam administration — particularly Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, who supports the new test and standards but advocates for tying teacher licensure to student test scores.

“I knew there was a lot of built up frustration about the Common Core and about Commissioner Huffman. I think a lot of it is personal. He has not gotten along well with a lot of our members and I think that was part of it, too,” said Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga.

The highly charged episode on the floor was a first for this session with Republicans teaming up with Democrats and members challenging the Speaker on parliamentary moves, and at times heated exchanges on the floor.

Tension over Common Core has brewed for a while, beginning in earnest in the fall with two days of hearings on the new standards. Some conservative Republicans vowed to bring forward legislation to do away with the new standards, although the only bills to make it out of committee so far this session are more tepid. The main bill restricts use of student data and reiterates that the state, not the federal government, sets the curriculum for the state. Any effort to slow down or do away with the standards or the test have been delayed in committee or shot down.

Republicans began to agitate Monday in a House GOP Caucus meeting, pointing to frustration that their bills were delayed in the committee system and arguing that their voices had been silenced. Some vowed to tack language onto other bills on the floor to ensure their ideas are heard.

That’s what happened Thursday afternoon in the House of Representatives. The House Republicans reportedly pow-wowed earlier that morning about keeping decorum and keeping cussing matches with fellow Republicans private.

A total of 27 amendments were filed to a bill stressing teaching of the nation’s founding documents. Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh offered one amendment postponing further implementation of Common Core, winning a 68-11 vote. The second delaying PARCC passed 88-0.

GOP lawmakers holding leadership positions in the caucus tried to rally. They included the Education Subcommittee Chairman, who put on the spot the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Timothy Hill, asking whether he’d keep his word to return the bill to committee should it be substantially amended. Hill eventually said he would, but he was called out of order procedurally and the bill passed the full chamber anyway.

House Speaker Beth Harwell, friendly to Common Core, did not vote on the legislation but voiced concern that the new language being introduced on the House floor — rather than being debated within the committee system — sets a dangerous precedent.

While the bill passed the House, it’s unclear whether the measure now moves to the Senate or has to circle back with the lower chamber’s finance committee to review its price tag.

Gov. Bill Haslam told the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce Tuesday he would not back up on Common Core, possibly spelling out a veto. However, the legislature could override his veto with a simple majority — assuming lawmakers are still in session by the time he would shoot down the bill.

Haslam spokesman Dave Smith said the governor stands behind the standards.

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