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New Tennessee Education Commissioner Recommends Extension Of Literacy Training Contract Born Out Of Nepotism

Image: Tennessee Education Commissioner Lizzette Gonzalez Reynolds Image Credit: TNDeptofEducation / YouTube

The Tennessee Conservative [by Adelia Kirchner] –

Tennessee’s new Education Commissioner Lizzette Reynolds is recommending that the state keep its contract with a New York-based literacy training group despite the contract’s nepotistic origins. 

Back in December of 2021, the state legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee chose to extend an $8 million contract established earlier that year with New York-based TNTP Inc. 

This extension increased the cost of the contract to $16 million.

The stated purpose of this contract was for the state to partner with a private company to establish a program to train teachers in early childhood literacy as a way to help students recover from the academic chaos of Covid-19.

The initial contract was recommended by former Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn, whose husband was simultaneously working for TNTP. 

This led Tennesseans, including some state lawmakers, to question Schwinn’s recommendation, calling it a nepotism contract, or more tamely, a conflict of interest.

At the time, lawmakers actually held up negotiations due to worries that the Education Department was attempting to push the contract to TNTP over other vendors.

Now that Reynolds has taken over as Education Commissioner, she is recommending that the state continue the TNTP contract.

The state legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee is already set to consider extending it. If the contract is renewed, the total cost could rise to more than $21 million over the next two years.

Reportedly, the training program has been “extremely successful” with 96% of around 10,000 teachers saying it helped them teach students how to read.

However, to this day Tennessee is still seeing questionable literacy rates amongst its student population.

In 2023, about two years after the initial TNTP contract was established, it came out that around 60% of third grade students across the state did not score proficiently for English/Language Arts during state testing.

Even after a retest was offered, most Tennessee school systems still saw less than 25% show proficiency in the subject out of those students who retook the test.

“Maybe TNTP is doing a good job,” wrote Tennessee Lookout reporter Sam Stockard. “But the way it got the contract sure didn’t pass the smell test.”

About the Author: Adelia Kirchner is a Tennessee resident and reporter for the Tennessee Conservative. Currently the host of Subtle Rampage Podcast, she has also worked for the South Dakota State Legislature and interned for Senator Bill Hagerty’s Office in Nashville, Tennessee. 

You can reach Adelia at adelia@tennesseeconservativenews.com.

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