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Tennessee Democrats call on education commissioner to resign over qualifications

Gov. Bill Lee swore in Education Commissioner Lizzette Reynolds in July 2023 after the departure of Penny Schwinn.
Tennessee Department of Education
Gov. Bill Lee swore in Education Commissioner Lizzette Reynolds in July 2023 after the departure of Penny Schwinn.

Democrats in the Tennessee House are calling on Education Commissioner Lizzette Reynolds to resign.

Representative John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) says she isn’t qualified to hold the position, which oversees K-12 operations in the state.

“She has zero experience in school administration, as you saw from her resume. She’s not qualified to teach. Shall means shall,” said Clemmons. “There is no vagueness, there is no ambiguity. These are requirements. Commissioner Reynolds is legally unqualified, and she must resign. It’s that straightforward. It’s that simple.”

Education commissioners in Tennessee are required to have skill and experience in school administration. Tennessee’s top education official also must “be qualified to teach in the school of the highest standing over which the commissioner has authority.”

In written comment, the governor’s office said Reynolds’ “credentials and professional experience” qualify her for the role. Reynolds does not have a teaching credential, although the governor’s office says she has enrolled in UT Martin’s Education Preparation Program. The governor’s office claimed that’s “not explicitly required by statute.”

Before taking the position in May, Reynolds worked as vice president of policy at ExcelinEd, a non-profit think tank on education reform that’s based in Florida and that was founded by Jeb Bush.

Democrats say she was brought in to help with the governor’s Education Savings Account program.

Blaise Gainey is a Political Reporter for WPLN News. He is the youngest of three siblings, husband and father of two. He previously held the State Government Reporter position for WFSU News in Tallahassee. He is from Apopka, Fla., and graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He previously worked for The Florida Channel and WTXL-TV. He is excited to move to another capital and report on state government. In his spare time, he enjoys watching sports, outdoor activities and enjoying family time.
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