Meet the Tennessee lawmakers who will shape education legislation this year
Twenty-three legislators in Tennessee’s House of Representatives and another nine in the Senate will serve as the gatekeepers for hundreds of bills dealing with public education over the next two years.
The highly anticipated committee assignments were announced Thursday by House Speaker Glen Casada and Senate Speaker Randy McNally to close out the first week of the 111th General Assembly.
Sen. Dolores Gresham of Somerville will return as chairwoman of her chamber’s education committee, while Rep. Mark White of Memphis will lead a newly combined House panel.
Both Republican leaders are strong advocates of Tennessee’s score-driven accountability systems for students, teachers, schools, and districts. And with 24 years of legislative experience between them, their appointments are viewed as stabilizing forces as Tennessee transitions to a new administration under governor-elect Bill Lee and a large class of freshmen in the House.
The Senate lineup doesn’t look significantly different from the previous session, but the House panel is markedly changed in both membership and structure.
Casada consolidated two House committees that have handled education since 2015. He also named four subcommittees to manage the heavy flow of legislation related to K-12 and higher education, which last year numbered more than 400 bills.
“The purpose of the subcommittees will be to vet the bills from the beginning,” said White. “If a bill isn’t written well or it’s not a good idea, the subcommittee should get rid of it.”
With this year’s legislature under another Republican supermajority, the GOP dominates membership on all committees. For Senate education, Raumesh Akbari of Memphis is the only Democrat, while Democrats comprise only a fourth of the membership of the House committee.
Each legislator files preferences for committee assignments, but the speaker of each chamber makes the final call on membership and leadership.
White’s elevation to chair the House panel was anticipated, since he was the only one of four education leaders in his chamber to return this year following the retirements of Harry Brooks and Roger Kane of Knoxville, and John Forgety of Athens. Last year, White chaired his chamber’s education subcommittee on administration and planning.
But the rise of Rep. David Byrd to chair a new subcommittee raised some eyebrows. A former teacher and principal, the Waynesboro Republican has been accused of sexual misconduct by three women when he was their high school basketball coach 30 years ago. Last fall, Casada defended Byrd, likening him to then-U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who was also facing allegations of sexual assault from decades earlier. Byrd eventually sailed past his Democratic opponent to secure a third term in office.
The committees will get to work the week of Jan. 28, and you can learn about their schedules on the General Assembly’s website.
Newly named members and chairs are:
House Education Committee
- Mark White, R-Memphis, chair
- Kirk Haston, R-Lobelville, vice chair
- Charlie Baum, R-Murfreesboro
- David Byrd, R-Waynesboro, chair, Administration Subcommittee
- Scott Cepicky, R-Colleoka
- Mark Cochran, R-Englewood
- Jim Coley, R-Bartlett, chair, Higher Education Subcommittee
- John DeBerry Jr., D-Memphis
- Vincent Dixie, D-Nashville
- Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville
- Jason Hodges, D-Clarksville
- Chris Hurt, R-Halls
- Tom Leatherwood, R-Arlington
- Harold Love, D-Nashville
- Debra Moody, R-Covington, chair, Curriculum, Testing and Innovation Subcommittee
- Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis
- John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, chair, K-12 Subcommittee
- Iris Rudder, R-Winchester
- Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station
- Kevin Vaughan, R-Collierville
- Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster
- Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville
- John Mark Windle, D-Livingston
Senate Education Committe
- Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, chair
- Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, first vice chair
- Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis, second vice chair
- Mike Bell, R-Riceville
- Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City
- Steven Dickerson, R-Nashville
- Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin
- Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald
- Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol