A Question of Qualifications

Relative to the Commissioner of Education

The Tennessee Journal reports that questions are being raised about whether Education Commissioner Lizzette Reynolds meets the minimum standard to hold the position to which she’s been appointed.

The issue is whether Reynolds qualifies to hold the post under Tennessee Code Annotated 4-3-802, which first became law nearly a century ago.

“The commissioner shall be a person of literary and scientific attainments and of skill and experience in school administration,” according to the law. “The commissioner shall also be qualified to teach in the school of the highest standing over which the commissioner has authority.”

Lee’s press secretary, Elizabeth L. Johnson, said in a statement to The Tennessee Journal that “Commissioner Reynold’s credentials and professional experience qualify her to serve as TDOE commissioner.”

The problem is that Reynolds doesn’t have a teaching degree and has never taught in a public or other school. She doesn’t have an active teaching license in Tennessee or any other state.

In other words, she could only teach in a Tennessee public school under a waiver or emergency certificate.

Previous Commissioners with backgrounds in politics and policy also had at least some teaching experience and an active teaching license. Penny Schwinn, the Commissioner just before Reynolds, taught high school in Maryland before her career in policy.

Kevin Huffman, an appointee of Bill Haslam’s, had experience in the classroom as a Teach for America teacher.

Here’s more on Reynolds:

question marks on paper crafts
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This IS Who He Is

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has never been a fan of or advocate for Tennessee’s public school teachers. Now, he confirms that in a revealing moment reported on by NewsChannel5’s Phil Williams.

In it, a key education advisor to Lee disparages teachers repeatedly while Lee sits in silence and nods in agreement.

Responses to Lee’s public confirmation of his disregard for teachers were swift, including this from his home county of Williamson:

The Democratic Party in Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s home county is calling on the governor to repudiate remarks made by a top education advisor. The Williamson County Democratic Party is also noting its stance in support of teachers in Williamson County and across Tennessee.

In an emailed statement, the group notes that it “stands in solidarity with public school teachers across Tennessee, especially those in Williamson County. Yesterday, Governor Bill Lee, a graduate of Franklin High School in Williamson County, nodded his head in agreement while an advisor of his was openly mocking public school teachers at an event for charter school teachers.”

Jenn Foley, chair of the Williamson County Democrats, said:

“We will not stay silent when our public school teachers have had two of the hardest years in recent history during the Covid pandemic. They have risked their lives to teach our children, and we must boldly stand up and support them now and every day. I have three kids in our wonderful public schools, and I know firsthand how hard they work for our families. We cannot allow our leadership to decimate our public schools.”

Courtenay Rogers, vice chair of the party and candidate for Williamson County Commission said:

“Families move to Williamson County because of the great quality of life and the excellent public education we provide our children. Our schools are one of the main reasons businesses choose to relocate to our community as well, and we need to be focused on increasing funding and improving teacher salaries and benefits, not calling our teachers dumb.”

JC Bowman, head of Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) said in a tweet:

Newly elected Tennessee Education Association President Tanya Coats said:

“Tennessee educators worked tirelessly through the past three school years to keep their students engaged, safe and healthy during a global pandemic. Many did so at the expense of their own health and wellbeing. To now witness their governor stand silently alongside out-of-state privatizers as they are cruelly and unfairly attacked feels like a punch to the gut. There is no excuse.

Our public school educators and teacher prep programs are the foundation of our state’s great public schools. Our governor would do well to remember that the continued success of our state is intrinsically tied to the success of our system of strong public schools, not charter schools.”

Lee’s silence and complicity in the denigration of teachers should come as no surprise. He’s repeatedly demonstrated his priority is on privatizing public schools. He’s also consistently shown his lack of respect for and appreciation of teachers.

Bill Lee ran a campaign predicated on the idea that our public schools were failing and the solution was/is charters and vouchers. He’s made good on that commitment as Governor. At this point, no one should be surprised that Bill Lee is nodding along as Tennessee’s public school educators are under attack.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

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