In any legislative body, the committee process is designed to weed out bad bills and correct poorly thought-out proposals before they advance to the House or Senate floor for a full vote. Members are typically assigned to committees based on their experience on particular subject area, a practice most would agree makes the committee process more effective. In the Tennessee House, the House Speaker ultimately decides each member’s committee assignments.
It was announced Thursday that incoming State Rep. Gloria Johnson — who brings 27 years of experience as a special education public school teacher to the Tennessee House — will not hold a seat on any House education committee or subcommittee. Rightfully, the announcement was followed by outrage and disapproval from public education advocates and teachers, given Johnson’s years of experience working in close proximity with students and teachers.
Tennessee Democrats are united in their support for Tennessee students and in opposition to school vouchers, and Rep. Gloria Johnson has solidified herself as a champion for Tennessee’s rank-and-file educators and the needs of public schoolchildren — and has the expertise to back it up. She is among the most qualified members of the legislature on the subject of educational policy.
Make no mistake: Denying Gloria Johnson a seat on the education committee was a deliberate and pre-emptive move by Speaker Casada to exclude one of the House’s most outspoken and fervent voices of support for Tennessee public school funding, and create a path of minimal resistance for GOP leaders to advance school voucher legislation.
As Gov.-elect Bill Lee stacks his top staff positions with voucher advocates, Casada is priming the House legislative process for their anti-public education agenda. The decision marks Speaker Casada’s first assault on public education, and is a precursor to attacks on public education funding and the livelihood of teachers that will most certainly come during 2019 legislative session.
We also learned that Casada delegated a key educational chairmanship to Rep. David Byrd, a former educator who used his position as a teacher and coach to prey on students. Byrd has been accused of sexual misconduct by three former players while he was a high schools girls basketball coach. He later admitted to the allegations in a recorded phone call with one of his victims. Needless to say, Casada’s decision to elevate a child sexual predator was a violation of common decency and a disservice to our public school system.
Glen Casada and House Republicans clearly don’t prioritize the best interests of Tennessee students — and Tennessee Democrats will be paying attention and fighting back.