West Tennessee representative calls for ‘no confidence’ vote on education commissioner

JACKSON, Tenn.– A West Tennessee representative is calling for a vote on the commissioner of education.

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Rep. Bruce Griffey, of Paris, is going on the offensive, saying he wants a vote of “no confidence” in Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn.

“I want Tennessee to be the very best education system in the entire United States. I don’t think we’ll ever get there with Commissioner Schwinn at the helm,” Rep. Griffey said.

Commissioner Schwinn testified before a House Education Committee meeting on Tuesday as part of their “Summer Study” sessions.

Committee members asked Schwinn about a variety of topics.

Rep. Griffey criticized Schwinn’s record at previous positions, failed policy proposals, and what he calls a “flawed handling” of COVID-19 in a statement.

“The ones that are hurt the most by being out of school are the kids that are at-risk,” he said.

Griffey says that the “nail in the coffin” was the “child well-being checks” proposed by the department earlier this year.

The original plan called for the checks for every student in the state under the age of 18, but the idea was scrapped after push back from legislators with Schwinn publicly stating that they “missed the mark.”

“I thought that was complete overreach, and we’ve got schools that have only 40 percent proficiency rating in third and eighth grade. That’s the problem, and I don’t see a focus on that,” Rep. Griffey said.

Rep. Chris Todd in Madison County pushed back on the idea of a vote.

“The Education Committee has no authority over who serves as commissioner, and any vote of confidence or no confidence has very little purpose,” Rep. Todd said.

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In fact, he defended Schwinn, saying that even with their missteps, the department is willing to work with representatives.

“On a variety of topics, the commissioner and her staff have been very responsive to correct mistakes and explain their actions. No matter what you do, a good portion of the state is going to be mad at you, for one reason or another,” Rep. Todd said.

WBBJ 7 Eyewitness News reached out to Schwinn and the Tennessee Department of Education for a response to Rep. Griffey’s statement.

“As a state, we are in unprecedented times and navigating all-new challenges presented by the pandemic that have real implications for the next generation and future leaders of Tennessee. Students, educators, schools and districts need more support now than ever, and the department is focused on delivering outcomes that meet the needs of students and school communities.”

As a reminder, a vote of no confidence does not mean Penny Schwinn would be removed as commissioner.

Since Rep. Griffey is not on the Education Committee, it would require someone else to propose the vote. It is unclear whether or not they will do so.

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