TN Democrats renew call for Education Commissioner to resign over residency questions

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Democrats are renewing a call for Tennessee Dept. of Education (DoE) Commissioner Lizzette Reynolds to resign.

Rep. Caleb Hemmer (D-Nashville) revealed Monday that Reynolds’s primary residence was not in Tennessee but in Texas – where she came from – despite starting as the commissioner last July.

“The second-highest paid person in the governor’s cabinet, paid with Tennessee taxpayer money, isn’t a taxpayer,” Hemmer said.

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The move comes as Republicans roll out their education freedom voucher scholarship, set to give public tax money to private school families.

“They’re not happy, so they’re going to do everything they can to move that issue on,” Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) said. “The thing is, maybe she can’t afford something here in Nashville, maybe the rent. I’m sure we’ll deal with it at some point.”

Now, it’s technically not illegal for Reynolds to live in a different state than where she serves. The only tangible requirement is, “the commissioner shall also be qualified to teach in the school of the highest standing over which the commissioner has authority.”

Though Democrats argue she doesn’t fit that qualification either, this gripe is more of an ethical one than a legal one.

“She’s come in like a Texas tornado, taking away and basically mowing down every public school and policy that is for our kids’ futures here,” Hemmer said.

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Texas does not have a state property tax, while Tennessee does. Democrats argued Reynolds is essentially dodging the property tax by keeping her residency in the Lone Star State.

“The principal place of residence is an issue, generally, because you pay property taxes. We primarily fund education out of property taxes,” House Democratic Caucus Chair John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) said. “She’s not even investing in our public schools as a resident of this state, so that’s pretty significant.”

Hemmer and Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) filed a bill this year to require any Tennessee commissioner to live in Tennessee for at least 30 days, while also creating a process to impeach any commissioner.

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“Requiring a commissioner to actually reside in the state of Tennessee isn’t something we used to have to require at all,” Yarbro said. “That’s just something that actually happened”

Lawmakers are set to discuss it in a committee Tuesday.

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