(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), March 6, 2014 – Passage of key legislation in the Senate Education Committee, including a bill rewriting the state’s Textbook Commission, topped a busy week on Capitol Hill. The commission, which is responsible for recommending an official list of textbooks for approval by the State Board of Education, came under fire by a group of parents last year for having adopted books containing inappropriate language and controversial interpretations of historical facts. Senate Bill 1602 is designed to provide greater transparency and more public input in the textbook selection process. In addition, it addresses how the books are chosen at the local level and the process under which an objection can be appealed.
The Textbook Commission is currently undergoing the regular Sunset review process conducted on all departments and agencies of state government. The Senate Education Committee worked in cooperation with the Senate Government Operations Committee in looking at the role of the commission. The goal was to come up with a bill to ensure students have the critical information they need and that it is done in an accurate and unbiased approach. This work included looking at best practices used by commissions in other states.
The bill adopted by the committee:
• Vacates the current board and replaces it with a new State Textbook and Instructional Materials Commission beginning January 1, 2015;
• Gives the Governor and the House and Senate Speakers three appointments each to the commission followed by confirmation by the General Assembly (the Commissioner of Education will also sit on the commission, and must attend or send his or her designee);
• Limits commission members to 2 terms; whereas, currently it is unlimited;
• Ensures the commission and those who review the textbooks have significant guidance by providing better training for members, including specific review criteria that must be considered when recommending books for approval;
• Reduces the current bonding requirement for those who bid on textbooks to encourage more textbook companies to bid (currently, Tennessee is the only state in the nation that requires a bond of up to $1 million for participating companies);
• Makes textbook companies financially responsible for fixing any mistakes in their materials;
• Requires publishers to submit complete books for online review by the public;
• Provides the public with web access to the commission’s textbook review process; and
• Requires the commission to consider public comment regarding textbook selection.