JC Bowman: Former Rep. Bill Dunn Was a Logical Choice for Tennessee’s Commissioner of Education

May 2, 2023

Live from Music Row, Tuesday 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 JC Bowman of Professional Educators of Tennessee in studio to discuss why Bill Dunn would have been a good choice for Tennessee’s new commissioner of education.

Leahy: In studio JC Bowman, head of Professional Educators of Tennessee. Governor Bill Lee is promoting tourism here in the state of Tennessee. It’s educational tourism and the recipients are out-of-state people from California and Texas and Florida who don’t know anything about Tennessee.  He’s got a certain type that he brings in.

And so now we’ve got a new educational tourist as our education commissioner. Lizzette Gonzalez Reynolds. She may be a nice person. Ms. Reynolds, you are welcome to come in studio and talk to us about education policy here in the state of Tennessee. It’s too bad, in my view, that the education commissioner, the person nominated, isn’t confirmed by the Tennessee General Assembly. I think they should be, don’t you?

Bowman: They need to go through some process of vetting. They do.

Leahy: But having said that I’m shocked! I’m shocked that Governor Bill Lee, who you know, is a native of Tennessee, who’s the governor of Tennessee, was unable to find somebody in the state of Tennessee who knows Tennessee to be the Commissioner of Education. Why didn’t he pick Bill Dunn?

Bowman: A couple of things. You’ve got a problem with the legislature. They feel like nobody’s following the directive over there. Bill Dunn for the last two years has basically been the liaison between the legislature and the Department of Education. It’s a logical choice.

Leahy: And the other problem is Penny Schwinn has been so leftist and so arrogant and so absent that the relationship between the commissioner of the Department of Education and the Tennessee General Assembly is virtually non-existent. They don’t like her. They didn’t like her because of all the above.

Governor Lee brings Bill Dunn, the former state representative from Knoxville, a Republican into the Department of Education to basically be the liaison right between the Tennessee General Assembly and the absent and now permanently absent Penny Schwinn. He’s done a good job in that regard.

Why didn’t Bill Lee say, oh, I’ve got this guy that knows education, he’s from Tennessee, and he knows the Tennessee General Assembly, I’m trying to push choice through? Why didn’t he pick Bill Dunn?

Bowman: I go back to it, Dunn had that connection and could have built that relationship with that. Eve Carney was also on staff, and there are two people over there that I think probably could have stepped in at least.

And then the other part it is that you could have done this if you were gonna do a national search, which by the way, it’s real, real rare. You see somebody, this person is out, and this person is in. Clearly, something was in the works for a while and then just announcing.

Leahy: He’d been doing a search for a while.

Bowman: He’s been doing a search for a while.

Leahy: My understanding the last six months, she was at the end of the session. I’m just curious, how many days in the last six months did Penny Schwinn actually show up at the Department of Education?

Bowman: That’s a TC Weber question because TC has actually kept up with her track travel records.

Leahy: I just have to say, TC Weber is our education reporter here for The Tennessee Star, and he’s been with us for about a year. And he does this great blog called Dad Gone Wild talking about education in Tennessee. He’s really good.

Bowman: The one thing you don’t want is him mad at you. (Leahy laughs) Weber, he’s got nothing to do but dig up research and facts, and he’ll pull up travel schedules. He calls around. He’s got a vicious circle of people that he talks to.

Leahy: He’s got a wide circle of people that he talks to. The thing about TC is very interesting because he reports for us, and I think we have a reputation for being the only conservative news outlet in the state.

And there are some people that won’t talk to us because of that, like Governor Bill Lee. He won’t talk to us. But everybody talks to tc, everybody—the people on the far-left, people in the middle, people on the right.

Bowman: He comes from a libertarian background. A little bit more than your conservative background.

Leahy: But he’s very good at digging up the details.

Bowman: And here’s the thing, he talks to everybody. And then he confirms facts three or four times. And so what I found fascinating. He and I don’t always agree and stuff like that, but

Leahy: What! (Laughs)

Bowman: Yes. But by and large, you know how many times he’s been proven, right? He was the first person in Nashville to ever raise the specter that Sean Joseph was a terrible superintendent of schools for Nashville schools.

Leahy: Oh yeah. Terrible.

Bowman: And he was the only one. He was a voice crying in the wilderness for two years.

Leahy: Exactly. Let’s talk about this. Where does this go in terms of education? Let’s say first there’s a very low bar for Lizzette Gonzalez Reynolds because just by not being Penny Schwinn, she’s already better than Penny Schwinn. But the question is how much? She’s never taught in the classroom. But she does ideologically support choice. That’s a good thing.

Bowman: You don’t work for Jeb Bush if you’re not some type of choice actor. I tell people all the time, your most ardent person on the left supports some type of choice. It’s just which level you’re going to stop at. Are you going to support magnet schools? Are you gonna support charter schools? Are you gonna support homeschooling?

Leahy: Let’s talk about the elements of choice here. One, in particular, is the education savings account, which, I don’t know if you would call the program that the governor has put forward, I wouldn’t say exactly a failure to launch, but pretty close to a failure to launch.

Bowman: Yes. They haven’t gotten the numbers they wanted, and here’s why.

Leahy: Tell people where this is actually applying according to the law.

Bowman: It’s in Shelby County and Davidson County. And in particular, it’s now going to be going to Hamilton County.

Leahy: That’s the third county which it’s gonna start.

Bowman: And now Hamilton County, here’s the interesting piece of that. If you were going to launch a choice program like vouchers, Hamilton County is probably the county you would want to do it. Because one of the things that they’ve had is a higher percentage of people who attend private schools in Hamilton County versus the other two.

Leahy: Very high. Relative speaking.

Bowman: Ninety percent of kids are in public schools. That’s the number one thing, right? The fault of the governor, and I’ve always said this, is that he seems to abandon public schools. He pays lip service to it a little bit, but he goes off and focuses on his other items, which are okay, but why can’t you touch everything?

Leahy: Meanwhile, the educational proficiency of kids is miserable in the state of Tennessee.

Bowman: Because he doesn’t listen to what we’re talking about. Some of the key things are that his commissioner’s been absent. Commissioner Schwinn was more interested in making the circuit in DC, Aspen, all the other places instead of being chained to the desk here.

Leahy: I’m shocked since she never went to Davos, Switzerland (Chuckles) Maybe she did.

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 “J. C. Bowman” by J. C. Bowman. Background Photo “Classroom” by Pixabay.