Newly elected Governor of Tennessee, Bill Lee, picked a privatizer from the Texas Education Agency to be State Commissioner of Education. Penny Schwinn, chief deputy commissioner for academics in Texas, is Lee’s choice. She is a supporter of school choice, including vouchers, which was never passed in Texas despite multiple efforts by the hard-right there. For some reason, she is described as a “reformer.” Apparently if you want to underfund public schools by diverting money to religious and private schools, that qualifies you to be called a “reformer.” The word “reformer” has become anathema.
In Texas, rural Republicans combined with urban Democrats to stymie vouchers in the legislature, year after year.
Tennessee also has rural Republicans who will question why public money should be diverted from their community schools to religious schools.
Schwinn has promised to fix Tennessee’s longstanding testing mess. Testing in Texas has been used to label and stigmatize schools and students. Remember the phony claims of a “Texas miracle” that brought NCLB to the nation? Legislators in the Lone Star State still has a zealous faith in standardized tests.
Worse, Schwinn was controversial in Texas.
Schwinn moves from Texas amid controversy there.
A September audit found Schwinn failed to report a conflict of interest between her and a subcontractor who got a $4.4 million contract to collect special education data. As a result, the Texas state commissioner canceled the contract, according to the Dallas Morning News.
The canceled contract cost the state more than $2 million, according to the Texas Tribune.
The Dallas Morning News also reported that Schwinn told auditors that while she had a professional relationship with the subcontractor, she didn’t try to influence the contract. In the wake of audit, Texas revamped its procurement process, the Texas Tribune reported.
Schwinn will need to help secure an assessment vendor to administer the TNReady test with the state’s contract with Questar Assessment set to expire.
This is not an auspicious start.