Friday, February 6, 2015

In the Aftermath of Defeat on Health Care, Haslam Faces Next Challenge: Education

The trick, as with "Obamacare" vis-a-vis the failed "Insure Tennessee, is to achieve an equivalent result by skirting an unpopular name -- in this case, "Common Core."

Posted By on Fri, Feb 6, 2015 at 8:41 AM

click to enlarge Haslam at TPA - JB
  • JB
  • Haslam at TPA

WHAT’S IN A NAME? On Thursday, a day after the defeat in a Senate committee of Insure Tennessee, his Medicaid expansion proposal, Governor Bill Haslam addressed members of the Tennessee Press Association at the DoubleTree Hotel in Nashville.

Haslam did not speak directly, in his remarks Thursday, to the issue of how various negative memes associated with the names of “Obama” and “Obamacare” had tainted his “Insure Tennessee” proposal beyond repair. But he offered some candid reflections to TPA members on how matters of nomenclature had become an obstacle in pursuing the matter of educational standards — his next battlefront and a subject to which he devoted marginally more time Thursday than he did to the “Insure Tennessee” debacle.

“There will be pushback,” he said. “Some people want to stand in the door and go back.” His administration had been fully committed to Common Core, but there had been “so much misunderstanding and controversy” over the name and concept that “the brand has become worthless.” He spoke of encountering on the stump a “double-degreed” woman in Bristol who was obsessed with the idea that Common Core would mandate sex education in kindergarten. “I couldn’t budge her,” Haslam said

“We’re not going to fix the brand. It’s too hard,” he said. “There are certain hills you can die on. Dying on the hill that people feel that way about, I don’t think is smart.” Accordingly, his administration was in the process of developing its own system of English and math standards which would operate similarly to Common Core, it seemed clear, but would steer clear of any name suggestive of the “ruined brand.”

Something similar is underway with regard to another discredited component of Haslam’s education reform program. “The legislature didn't like PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) “ as an assessment vehicle, so the administration was developing something similar it called “TNReady” in that TCAP, the traditional testing format, no longer fit the state’s objectives. (One modification in the state’s evaluation system, the Governor said, would be to reduce somewhat the percentage by which teacher evaluation in student achievement would be weighted.)

FREUDIAN SLIP? In the Q-and-A session with reporters following his remarks at the TPA meeting, Haslam was asked about the fact that, in his Monday night address to the General Assembly, he had stayed close to his previously released prepared text, only interpolating some synonymous language here and there. But there had been one conspicuous outright omission from the printed text. As the text read, the Governor responded to the oft-expressed objection of Insure Tennessee critics that the federal government could not be trusted to follow through with its commitment of 90-percent funding in two years’ time. The line in the text was: “I understand the concern, but I think it’s worthy of mention that the United States of America has never missed a scheduled Medicaid payment.“

Asked about the omission, Haslam seemed honestly confused, protesting that he thought he had said the line. When his aide Alexia Poe confirmed that he indeed had not, the Governor attributed the omission to “operator error,” not to any conscious calculation.

PROMISES, PROMISES...Toward the end of the Q-and-A session, after Haslam had responded to questions about his late efforts to familiarize the public with the purpose and mechanics of Insure Tennessee by saying the framework of an agreement with HHS was long in coming, a reporter said something jokingly to the effect that he have made public promises of a deal anyhow, that politicians made promises all the time.

Haslam smiled and said, “I thank you for saying I’m not a politician.”

AND THAT’S NOT ALL...When another reporter, riding down from the TPA event in an elevator with Haslam, suggested that if “Jesus Himself” had come to the legislature and proclaimed, “This is My Plan,” someone would have yelled, “Crucify him!”

Another Haslam smile: “I’m not Jesus.”

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