By Andy Sher
A bill requiring Tennessee's State Board of Education to drop Common Core education standards and develop new requirements has a math problem: It's projected to cost $4.14 million over a three-year period.
That's how much money legislative analysts estimate will be needed for the state board to develop and implement new math and English language standards outlining what students need to know and when.
The "fiscal note," or cost analysis, was developed by the Legislature's Fiscal Review Committee staff. It doesn't necessarily kill the legislation. But with Republican Gov. Bill Haslam insisting on his own Common Core review process, it does make the bill harder to pass because budgetary considerations now come into play.
The bill is slated to come up Wednesday in the House Education Instruction and Programs Subcommittee. Its House sponsor, Rep. John Forgety, R-Athens, chairman of the full Education Instruction and Programs Committee, said he was aware of the fiscal note but had not had time to delve into the issue.
"I thought the process [of new standards] should be up to the education community and the parents of the children," Forgety said of his bill.
Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, the bill's Senate sponsor, said, "I don't know how they come up with that big fiscal note."
Tracy said he and Forgety will "try to work together and we're going to meet with the [House and Senate] speakers to see if we can't come up with a plan. I think our bill is the right way to do it."
Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville is a co-sponsor of Forgety's bill.
The measure is one of several legislative efforts to quell a political uproar, primarily among conservatives, over Common Core, the national set of standards initiated by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers.
After Democratic President Barack Obama embraced the standards, a backlash developed in Tennessee and many other GOP-led states. Common Core gas been blamed for everything from sex education -- which isn't even included in the standards -- to putting a "socialist" slant on what children learn.
Some critics, conservative as well as liberal, and educators also raise concerns that the standards introduce some concepts too early for students.
Last year, an alliance of Republicans and Democrats forced Haslam to delay Common Core testing for a year. He later scrapped the tests and has contracted with another company to develop new ones.
Recognizing more trouble was coming down the pike on Common Core standards themselves, Haslam in October initiated a public review process. His aim is to address standard-specific concerns and put more of a Tennessee flavor into them while maintaining the highest standards possible.
But lawmakers have their own ideas on how to proceed. One lobbyist noted privately that many Republicans feel they "need to vote against Common Core" and want legislation doing just that.
The Forgety/Tracy bill uses the language "world-class" standards.
Tracy said that there are plenty of state educators who could help. Tennessee should "come up with our own state standards and we don't use any national standards. ... We don't need somebody from the outside doing it," he said.
Tracy acknowledged Haslam administration officials "told me they don't like it" but added, "we can work out something. Both speakers want to do something."
Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville also has said the state needs to come up with its own standards, although he acknowledges they are likely to resemble Common Core, which is designed to allow state-to-state comparisons.
Forgety, a former McMinn County schools superintendent, said he began working on his bill with Tracy in June. Their bill shares some similarities with Haslam's review. It puts the State Board of Education in charge of a process that includes selecting panels of Tennessee teachers and experts to review the standards.
Haslam also has called for public input and said a website on the topic has garnered 80,000 comments so far.
The Forgety/Tracy bill would so put parents of public schoolchildren on the panels as well as representatives from business. It imposes firm deadlines. And it puts the process into statute.
Meanwhile, Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, has a Common Core review bill of her own that goes in an entirely different direction than Haslam or the Forgety/Tracy bill in terms of who controls the review process.
It takes review and approval away from the nine-member State Board of Education, which is appointed by the governor, and puts it into the hands of a new nine-member "standards commission." The governor and House and Senate speakers would each get three appointments.
The House bill is sponsored by Rep. Billy Spivey, R-Lewisburg, who nearly two weeks ago asked Forgety to delay his bill in subcommittee, saying he had had an "epiphany" on the issue.
No fiscal note has been issued on the Gresham/Spivey bill.
The fiscal note on the Forgety/Tracy bill examines the costs of adding a full-time employee to the State Board of Education, and of of having two standards review and development committees with at least eight members and at least six advisory committees of nine members each.
Based on information provided by the State Board of Education on previous development processes, the fiscal note says stipends are traditionally paid to "incentivize, attract, and retain the necessary level of expertise." Travel costs are provided for as well as hotel expenses.
Add all those costs up and it generates expenditures estimated at $668,000 in 2015/2016; $3.09 million in 2016/2017 and $293,700 in 2017/2018. There would be a recurring cost for the new State Board employee of $93,700 in 2018/2019 and following years.
(c)2015 the Chattanooga Times/Free Press (Chattanooga, Tenn.)