Texas official named Tennessee’s new education commissioner

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s newly elected Gov. Bill Lee unveiled one of his most high-profile cabinet positions Thursday, announcing the appointment of an education commissioner touted for her education reform work.

The Republican governor has chosen Penny Schwinn, 36 to lead Tennessee’s Department of Education. She previously served as the Texas Education Agency chief deputy commissioner of academics since 2016.

“Penny leads with students at the forefront and I believe her experience is exactly what we need to continue improving on the gains we have made in the past few years,” Lee said in a statement. “As a former teacher and seasoned administrator, she will help make Tennessee a leader in the nation on education.”

Lee has advocated for school choice, but hasn’t released detailed policy priorities yet — particularly if and how the first-time elected politician will push possible school vouchers.

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Lee’s team touted Schwinn’s role in transforming the assessment program in Texas, expanding externships and focusing on career readiness.

It was there, however, an audit found that the agency failed to identify a conflict of interest between Schwinn and a subcontractor involved in a long-term special education plan for the state. Schwinn was the primary decision maker in that contract, but she did not disclose that she received professional development training from an employee who then became the subcontractor on the project, according to the audit.

Schwinn countered at the time she was not involved in the subcontracting decision.

Previously, Schwinn was the chief accountability and performance officer for the Delaware Department of Education.

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She taught with Teach for America, having worked in Baltimore and Los Angeles, and founded Capitol Collegiate Academy, a charter school for low-income students in Sacramento, California.

Schwinn also was recently a finalist for the Massachusetts education commissioner job.

“As a newcomer to our state, I hope she will take time to see firsthand the meaningful work happening in classrooms all across Tennessee, and also gain an understanding of the support and resources needed to ensure student success,” said Beth Brown, president of Tennessee Education Association, the state’s teacher union.

Lee’s inauguration is Saturday.

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Jonathan Mattise contributed to this report from Nashville.