Update: The governor's bill, optimistically dubbed the "First to the Top Act," has passed the House by a vote of 83-10. House and Senate leaders say they fully expect to settle their differences over the makeup of the special committee set up by the legislation to decide how to evaluate teachers. The Senate is about to reconvene, and an agreement is possible late tonight.
Update II: It took until nearly 10 o'clock, but the Senate and the House have struck a deal. The Senate has just voted to agree with the House on the makeup of the advisory committee: As many as five minority members and eight professional educators will sit on the 15-member committee.
The Republican-run Senate has just voted 29-3 for its version of Gov. Phil Bredesen's K-12 reform legislation, mandating the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations. The vote seems to guarantee a partisan fight with House Democrats
over the number of blacks who will sit on the special committee that develops the evaluation scheme.
House Democrats and Republicans are caucusing right now just before the scheduled start of their floor session. Once the bill passes the House, probably today, it looks like it'll take a House-Senate conference committee to work out differences.
Senate Republicans passed their amendment setting aside only one minority position on the special committee over the objection of Sen. Thelma Harper, who is black. "I really think when we specify one minority, I think we do an injustice to the population of Tennessee," she said. "I think there should be more people who look like me on that committee."
Harper, Mae Beavers and Beverly Marrero were the three senators who voted against the bill. Beavers opposed it on 10th amendment grounds, apparently thinking Tennessee should join Texas in refusing to compete for hundreds of millions of dollars in President Obama's Race to the Top competition.
"I'd be a hypocrite if I railed against the federal government, preached about the 10th amendment" and then voted for this bill, Beavers said. "For myself, if I'm going to talk the talk, I feel like I ought to walk the walk."
But Sen. Brian Kelsey, another 10th amendment champion, said he was holding his nose and voting yes because it would help schools in his district: "For the first time in my career, I like the strings attached to these Obama stimulus dollars."
Marrero said she was voting against it because "I feel like this will undermine our teachers' financial security. I'm standing up for my teachers."