Tennessee Education Association

Great Public Schools for All Students


Big changes in the Capitol

House Education now one of largest committees

With dozens of freshman legislators, new House and Senate leadership, a new governor, and a new commissioner of education, it may take some time to understand the approach of the new General Assembly and the administration toward public schools, though it’s clear education will be front and center.   

General Assembly

House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) reorganized the education committees, creating four subcommittees and a giant, 23-member full committee, the House’s largest. 

The chair of the full committee is Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis). White, who chaired a House education subcommittee for the past several years, is well-versed in the issues facing Tennessee public schools. 

Vice-chair of the full committee is public school teacher and TEA member Kirk Haston (R-Lobelville). Haston is also a former NBA player.   

“It is exciting to have an active public school teacher on the education committee and serving in the Legislature,” said TEA President Beth Brown. “The last active teacher was TEA’s good friend Rep. Jim Coley (R-Bartlett), who retired from teaching several years ago. Kirk will bring a lot of school experience and common sense to the debates on education. I hope other legislators will look to him in these meetings.”

Brown notes that being a rural teacher from Perry County is also an important aspect of Haston’s background, and will be helpful when discussing issues such as funding and technology resources. 

The Senate Education committee also has some significant changes. Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville), who fought to protect teacher licenses from revocation based on test scores in 2014, is a new committee member. He is joined by Sen. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) who replaces Reginald Tate (defeated in last year’s primary due to his pro-voucher and anti-teacher stances) as the  committee’s lone Democrat. Sen. Delores Gresham (R-Somerville) continues to serve as chair, and Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Memphis) as vice-chair. 

Senate leadership has also had some significant changes. Sen. Ken Yager (R-Kingston) was elected to the third leadership post, Republican caucus chair. Yager has received TEA’s endorsement and has a strong pro-teachers and pro-public school record. The number two post, Majority Leader, went to Sen. Jack Johnson (R-Brentwood). 

New Commissioner

Gov. Lee’s final cabinet appointment came just days prior to his inauguration with the announcement of Penny Schwinn as the new state commissioner of education. 

“I look forward to working with Commissioner Schwinn in the best interest of Tennessee students, educators and our great public schools,” said TEA President Beth Brown in a statement to media. “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.”

Brown, Executive Director Carolyn Crowder and Chief Lobbyist Jim Wrye had an opportunity to sit down with the commissioner prior to the announcement. 

While Schwinn’s background has caused concerned for many educators, TEA leaders were optimistic about the potential for a positive relationship between the new commissioner and teachers.

“Based on our first conversation, I am confident we have common ground on the importance of test transparency, including educators’ voices in policy decisions and working to ensure all students have access to a quality public education,” Brown said.



Pictured above: Members of the Williamson County and Franklin SSD Education Associations sat down with Williamson County lawmakers House Speaker Glen Casada, Senate Majority leader Jack Johnson, and Rep. Sam Whitson in Franklin on January 24.  Member-Legislator meetings like this are occurring in communities across the state and are critical to making educator concerns a priority for lawmakers.    

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