The Tennessee Senate overwhelmingly approved three key bills on Monday that will block federal intrusion into Tennessee’s curriculum, reform the state’s textbook commission and prevent data-mining of student information in the state’s public schools.
Passage of the legislation comes after the Senate Education Committee conducted fact-finding hearings last year to address concerns regarding Common Core. The committee also held multiple hearings in cooperation with the Government Operations Committee in response to inappropriate language and a controversial interpretation of facts contained in textbooks which were approved by the state’s Textbook Commission.
“I am very proud of the work done by our committees in examining the facts and letting them be our guide in addressing many legitimate concerns surrounding both common core and the process in which our state textbooks are selected,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville). “These bills protect us from federal intrusion into our curriculum so it reflects Tennessee values and overhauls the way we select textbooks to help ensure students are presented with unbiased factual information.”
Senate Joint Resolution 491, sponsored by Senator Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville), provides that the state, not the federal government, should determine the content of Tennessee’s state academic standards and the measures used to assess how well students have mastered them. The state education sovereignty resolution spells out that Tennessee considers any collection of student data by the federal government an overreach of the federal government’s constitutional authority. It also extends to organizations contracted to conduct tests on students in Tennessee in regards to any potential sharing or allowing access to pupil data.
Likewise, the full Senate approved Senate Bill 1835, sponsored by Senator Gresham, which puts the force of Tennessee law behind the principles set out in the state education sovereignty resolution. “The Data Accessibility, Transparency and Accountability Act” reiterates the federal government has no constitutional right to set educational standards and ensures that any partnership with a consortium is totally at the discretion of the state. It also provides greater transparency to parents regarding the child’s progress and ensures that data collected by the state should be used for the sole purpose of tracking academic progress and the needs of the student,” Senator Gresham said.
Senate Bill 1602, sponsored by Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell (R-Riceville), vacates the current Textbook Selection Commission and replaces it with a new State Textbook and Instructional Materials Commission to provide greater transparency and more public input in the textbook selection process. The bill ensures the commission and those who review the textbooks have significant guidance by providing better training for members; provides specific review criteria that must be considered when recommending books for approval; makes textbook companies financially responsible for fixing any mistakes in their materials and requires publishers to submit complete books for online review by the public. The bill requires the commission to consider public comment regarding textbook selection.
In addition, the legislation reduces the current bonding requirement for those who bid on textbooks to encourage more textbook companies to bid. Currently, Tennessee is the only state in the nation that requires a bond of up to $1 million for participating companies.
“These bills make Tennessee’s education system uniquely Tennessean,” said Chairman Gresham. “I am pleased that they have passed the Senate and believe they will keep our state moving forward in student achievement, while providing needed protections against federal overreach.”