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Legislative notebook: Lawmakers take more swings at Common Core

Tom Humphrey, The Knoxville News-Sentinel • Updated Mar 9, 2014 at 8:00 PM

NASHVILLE (MCT) – Critics of Common Core standards are hoping to use legislation that broadens the scope of American history teaching requirements to bypass committees that have been holding up action on their bills to terminate or delay Common Core.

The history bill (SB1266) has already passed the Senate and was scheduled for a House vote last week. But several amendments relating to Common Core were filed and the sponsor, Republican Rep. Timothy Hill of Blountville, put off consideration until this coming Thursday.

The proposed amendments range from one by Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, that would repeal all Common Core state standards to a proposal by House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley that would postpone new tests required for Common Core until July 1, 2016. The tests, known as Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College or Career, are now scheduled to be launched in the 2014-15 school year.

Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, has filed two amendments. One would declare that PARCC results cannot be used in teacher evaluations and the other gives parents the right to block their child's participation in any test that is not part of classroom instruction or required by federal law. PARCC is required by state, not federal, law.

Fitzhugh has another amendment requiring that the state commissioner of education be a licensed teacher in Tennessee or have 10 years experience as a teacher in another state "immediately preceding" appointment as commissioner -- requirements that the current education commissioner, Kevin Huffman, could not meet.

A week earlier, eight anti-Common Core bills wound up being held by the House Education Subcommittee until the panel's last meeting with Womick, quoted by The Tennessean, declaring members were "being pressured by the administration and by leadership in the House not to vote for these bills."

Gov. Bill Haslam is a staunch defender of Common Core and is backed by House Speaker Beth Harwell in his stance.

Local tax referendums: Though several members voiced misgivings, a House subcommittee has advanced legislation that requires approval in a local referendum before any county commission or city council can raise property taxes by 25 percent or more during a 12-month period.

Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna, said his bill (HB201) was inspired by the city of Lavergne raising its property tax rate by 100 percent through a city council vote. Smyrna at one point was considering a 46 percent property tax increase, he said. Both towns are in Rutherford County.

Members of the House Local Government Subcommittee observed that residents elect council members and commissioners and have the option of voting them out of office in the next election. Sparks said that, by then, it's too late.

Rep. Steve Hall, R-Knoxville, agreed.

"The damage has already been done; the taxes have already been increased," Hall said.

But others questioned whether enactment of the bill would be going too far in a state mandate to local officeholders.

"If you put it to a referendum, nobody would vote for any tax," said Rep. Dale Carr, R-Sevierville. "So I think we're handcuffing our elected officials. ... It should be up to them to decide."

Reps. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough; Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis; and Larry Miller, D-Memphis, also voiced concerns about the measure. But Sparks and Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, chairman of the subcommittee, urged that the bill be approved and sent along to the full Local Government Committee for further discussion.

The approval came on a voice vote with only Parkinson asking to be recorded as voting no.

Bridge funding: The House has unanimously approved a bill that sharply reduces the amount of matching money city and county governments must put up to collect state funding for repair or replacement of bridges.

Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville, said HB1647 will help "our crumbling country infrastructure" by giving local governments access to money they cannot collect now.

Currently, state law requires local governments to put up 20 percent of the money needed for a project to get 80 percent of the funding from the state's bridge grant program. The bill cuts the local match requirement to 2 percent.

The bill was approved 92-0 in the House and has cleared the committee system in the Senate without a dissenting vote, now needing only approval on the Senate floor this week.

Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, says local governments often cannot afford a 20 percent match and reducing the requirement to 2 percent will make funding available for many more projects. He says there is currently a $9.45 million "unexpended balance" in the state's bridge grant fund.

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