A proposal by Rep. Art Swann to allow the state commissioner of education to waive enforcement of laws applying to public school systems has been attacked on a bipartisan basis by colleagues who say it probably violates the state constitution.
The bill (HB1970, as amended) is entitled “The Public School Achievement Flexibility Act”. It would empower the commissioner to grant high-achieving school systems a “waiver of any state board (of education) rule or statute that inhibits or hinders the desired flexibility for the school.”
The Maryville Republican said that state law already allows charter schools and achievement school districts, which are under state supervision because of low performance, to ignore regular rules and laws
“If it’s good for charters, why shouldn’t it be good for public schools?,” he said, describing the legislation as “leveling the playing field.”
But the measure was sharply criticized, first by Democrats, then by Republican Rep. Glen Casada of College Grove.
Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, said the bill would allow “one unelected individual to dispense with any law we have.” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner said that the Legislature, not a commissioner, is the only body empowered by the state constitution to overturn a state law that has been duly enacted.
Casada, after declaring it an unusual situation for him to agree with the Democrats, said he likes the idea of flexibility for schools but the notion that “an unelected commissioner, answering only to the governor, can overturn laws that we pass… scares me.”
Swann wound up postponing a House floor vote for a week. Later Turner told reporters that he now wonders whether it is constitutional to waive laws for charter schools and achievement school districts and may seek the attorney general’s input on that question.