Education Reporter TC Weber Predicts an Acceleration of School Choice with New Commissioner Lizzette Gonzalez Reynolds

May 3, 2023

Live from Music Row Wednesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Tennessee Star education reporter TC Weber in studio to predict the future actions of newly appointed Tennessee Education Commissioner Lizzette Gonzalez Reynolds.

Leahy: In studio, the very best education reporter in the state of Tennessee, TC Weber who reports for us at both The Tennessee Star and has his own blog at Dad Gone Wild. I love that name, Dad Gone Wild. Governor Bill Lee has named another educational tourist as the commissioner of education here in Tennessee.

But because we believe in fairness and we’re kind and gentle here, even an educational tourist named to be the new commissioner of education deserves an opportunity. And so what can you tell us that is encouraging about the background of Lizzette Gonzalez Reynolds, who’s going to take over on July 1 as commissioner of education in Tennessee?

Weber: I’m going to have a roundabout answer for you on that one because the whole idea of give him a chance is something I pushed back against. And what we’re seeing right now it’s amazing how things just repeat themselves. Kevin Huffman was the commissioner of education a decade ago.

Leahy: And he was not a Tennesseean.

Weber: He was not a Tennessean. He was a disruptor, much like Penny Schwinn.

Leahy: Oh, a disruptor!

Weber: He was another disruptor that was going to change the world.

Leahy: We can’t get enough of those disruptors.

Weber: And then along comes Candace McQueen, who was local in a friendly local face. And she was nice, but she wasn’t.

Leahy: But she’s the president of Lipscomb now.

Weber: She is. And she still is who she is.

Leahy: She’s still nice.

Weber: Let’s give Candace a chance. Let’s give Candace a chance. And we found out we were getting the same thing that we got out of Kevin we were just being served on a nicer platter. (Leahy laughs) So it’s kind of like standing in the middle of the road thinking I don’t think that car will hit me. Let’s see if it does. And boom, it hit me. And then the car is down the road.

Leahy: Why did it hit me?

Weber: And keep in mind that Gonzalez Reynolds or Reynolds Gonzalez, or, I don’t know.

Leahy: But you’ve got to get it right. We worked on this a little bit, so we had Penny Schwinn in 2019. I think, if you counted up the number of days she was actually in Tennessee, it would probably be, less than a couple 100 in her entire tenure. I don’t know with the very few sightings of Penny Schwinn.

Weber: Remember this is a woman who likes to work 100 hours a week, as she told us when she got here. (Leahy laughs) But anyways, remember. That Gonzalez Reynolds is only going to be here for three years.

So in three years, she’s gone. So while you’re standing around giving her a chance, she is going to implement things that you might not like. A and then she’s gone because the next governor gets a chance.

Leahy: And Bill Lee is turned out.

Weber: He’s a lame duck.

Leahy: In January of 2027, there will be a new governor in the state of Tennessee.

Weber: One thing that conservatives might like is I do believe, in fact, I know from looking at her minimum footprint is, she is an ESSA fan. She is a voucher fan. She is a charter school fan. She is a choice person.

Leahy: So these are all things that conservatives love.

Weber: Yes, I think that you’ll see an acceleration of the choice programs. I think you’ll see ESA.

Leahy: Educational savings accounts, saving counts, sometimes referred to as vouchers.

Weber: If one term doesn’t work, we always get the marketing department to come in with a new term that works a little better and is a little bit more palpable. Vouchers is ugly the way it rolls off the tongue, and ESA comes off better.

Leahy: Sounds nicer.

Weber: Remember that old Carlin bit about baseball? Football goes touchdown, baseball goes home. It’s a lot like that. We want palpable.

Leahy: That was a great monologue, by the way, the late great George Carlin. We are showing our age, aren’t we?

Weber: Yes, we are. So that’s what you’re looking at. You’ll see some things there. On the back door, I hear she’s never run an organization of this size as a manager.

Leahy: I don’t know if she’s never run an organization because she’s a thinker.

Weber: She’s a thinker.

Leahy: And then before that, she was deputy commissioner of education in Texas. Are you running anything or are you just putting out reports?

Weber: You’re putting out a lot of reports. Something to note there, that I’m really surprised hasn’t gotten more attention is the Kumer incident in 2007 when she was the deputy of policy and procedures in the Texas investigation.

Leahy: The Kumer incident. I’m not familiar with that.

Weber: The Kumer incident, Texas had a policy at the time, and I’m not sure if they still do or not, that when it comes to evolution, intelligent design, it’s all supposed to be a neutral position. And Kumer was the director of science, and she responded to an email about intelligence design saying that she didn’t think it should be taught.

Somehow, and nobody’s quite sure how this ended up on Reynolds’s desk. And Reynolds ran it up the flagpole and declared that it was a firing offense and that she should not be pushing back against intelligent design. And intelligent design should be taught in schools.

The woman was brought up on charges and pushed out. She eventually lost her $ 65,000-a-year job and sued the Texas Department of Education one time and lost that seat and then filed an appeal and lost the appeal because there wasn’t enough evidence or support.

But the whole thing about it is this is something that you would think, especially in the climate we find ourselves in now, that this would be something that Democrats and Republicans would’ve grasped onto. I don’t know that I’ve seen a single news story on that other than ours.

Leahy: A long time ago.

Weber: 2007. But other than ours, I don’t think that you’ve seen anybody mention that in any other report.

Leahy: TC, you just said the magic word. Other than at The Tennessee Star, who’s going to be writing about real news in Tennessee?

Weber: And apparently it’s a big enough issue that not only does Reynolds Gonzalez have her own Wikipedia page, but Kumer has her own Wikipedia page too, based on this incident. We’ll see where that goes and where she weighs in and some of the cultural issues that were heading forward.

Leahy: I guess the negative in her background is not a lot of experience, if any, managing a department.

Weber: Here’s one other good news on that too. Reynolds may actually be a conservative as opposed to Schwinn.

Leahy: It’s hard to tell Penny Schwinn from Kamala Harris.

Weber: And that’s what I’m getting to here is I had one person call me up that had worked in the Department of Education previously, and she was just incensed because in the press story that was leaked by Schwinn to Education Week…

Leahy: Before the announcement at three o’clock.

Weber: She had them reference her as a Republican on two occasions. And I was reminded of the story that when Penny first came, she had a book on her desk, the children’s book by Vice President Harris. And it was on her book, but it had a fake cover on it so nobody could see it. And she would tell people that Kamala Harris was her idol, so she would keep that on the down low.

Listen to today’s show highlights, including this interview:

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Reporwith Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Lizzette Gonzalez Reynolds” by PIE Network.