Tennessee Education Commissioner Schwinn gets an education in governance and politics

Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn, left, looks on as Superintendent Bryan Johnson speaks during a Partnership Network Advisory board meeting at the Hamilton County Department of Education board room on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

NASHVILLE - Following stints as a teacher - as well as in senior education leadership roles in California and Delaware - Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn finds herself in the midst of a new learning experience, navigating the Volunteer State's sometimes-treacherous intersection of politics, policy and management.

During her 20-month tenure here, the 37-year-old commissioner has managed to rile department staffers, certain educators and several school district superintendents. Worse for her, a number of conservative GOP majority state lawmakers and groups have begun to criticize her.

The latest example is an uproar among conservatives over a child welfare wellness-check program. Schwinn proposed it as an option, one of several "tool-kits" to ensure students are OK during the coronavirus pandemic. Child abuse complaints have fallen some 27% percent during the pandemic, and some worry that's because abuse is not being spotted by educators during virtual, as opposed to in-person, learning.

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