NASHVILLE - A spokesman for Republican Gov. Bill Haslam says a group of GOP tea party lawmakers who want Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman to be fired or to resign "chose a political stunt instead of constructive dialogue."
"Education is one of the most serious issues for the future of our state, and the governor believes there is a more productive way to discuss something so significant than through a letter by a small group of legislators more interested in trying to get headlines than substance," said Haslam spokesman David Smith in an email.
Fourteen Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Joe Carr who is running for U.S. Senate, signed the letter to Haslam, released Thursday calling on Huffman to resign or Haslam fire him.
At issue is the state's Common Core curriculum standards as well as related testing for K-12 students.
The lawmakers, who have previously criticized the Common Core standards and associated testing, cited last month's delay in test scores as raising questions about the education department's integrity and what they call Huffman's "misguided leadership."
The letter accuses Huffman of "dereliction of duty" and possible violations of state law when he waived a requirement that teachers include standardized test scores as a factor in final grades. That came after the state was late turning the test results over to districts.
"While we do not doubt your motivation or desire to see improvements in the education of all Tennesseans, we realize that we cannot begin to craft an honest solution to our education problems without first recognizing an even bigger problem: a complete lack of trust in the Tennessee Department of Education that now encompasses this state," read the letter dated Thursday.
The legislators argue the state's delay may indicate the department is trying to "conceal the disastrous results of this year's TCAP test scores" and even opening up the ability for the department to play games with the results.
"It is the general consensus of the undersigned that Commissioner Huffman has overstepped his authority and has failed to serve in the best interest of the citizens of this state," the letter states. "Anything short of his immediate removal from office will be unacceptable."
Haslam spokesman Smith said "our office reached out to several of these members earlier in the week to discuss their concerns, and it is disappointing they chose a political stunt instead of constructive dialogue."
Haslam and Huffman sent a joint letter to the group saying claims state law was violated are "baseless."
Moreover, the governor and commissioner said the lawmakers' letter "claims that the post equating process invalidates and removes test questions 'thus altering and improving the overall results of statewide TCAP scores.'"
"This is categorically untrue," Haslam and Huffman's letter says.
The letter is signed by 14 members, largely in the House of Representatives, which has been more vocal in criticizing the commissioner. They include Reps. Rick Womick, Joe Carr, Tilman Goins, Courtney Rogers, Andy Holt, Terri Lynn Weaver, Mike Sparks, Micah Van Huss, Jeremy Durham, Mark Pody, Sheila Butt, Judd Matheny, Debra Moody and Sen. Frank Nicely. Sen. Joey Hensley's name is also listed, but with no signature.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550.