Schwinn taps deputy with voucher experience to build Tennessee’s program

A top aide recruited from a large Florida school district will oversee development of Tennessee’s controversial education voucher program for students in Memphis and Nashville.

Amity Schuyler

Amity Schuyler, who became deputy commissioner of Tennessee’s education department in May, has been named project manager by Commissioner Penny Schwinn. She will retain her deputy commissioner title.

Schuyler will have a little more than a year to build and roll out the education savings account program following Gov. Bill Lee’s recent directive for the department to work with the state Board of Education toward a fall 2020 launch, one year earlier than the deadline set by Tennessee’s legislature this spring under a new state law.

Schwinn informed her cabinet of Schuyler’s new role this week.

“She comes from Florida where they already have education savings accounts, she’s done lots of voucher-ESA work, and she understands what it’s like from a district perspective,” Schwinn said of Schuyler.

“She also believes in education savings accounts. And to take the lead on this project, I need someone who believes in it,” Schwinn said.

Schuyler was chief of staff for the superintendent of Palm Beach County Schools when she was recruited from Florida this spring.

Schwinn previously said her department will look to states such as Florida to identify “best practices” to develop Tennessee’s version, which will start with up to 5,000 students in the first year.

Florida has been at the forefront of developing programs that supporters say provide parents with more education choices and critics say are ploys to privatize public education. The state has the nation’s largest tax credit scholarship program and was one of the first to adopt education savings accounts.

Education savings accounts are a newer type of voucher that gives parents accounts loaded with taxpayer money to pay for a range of educational costs, including private school tuition and fees, private tutoring, and online learning programs. Tennessee lawmakers approved them after years of turning back proposals to adopt traditional vouchers, which have substantial overlap with education savings accounts but poll worse among voters.

Schuyler joined Palm Beach County Schools in 2016 after working for three years as director of strategic marketing and communications for Lee County Schools, based in Fort Myers, Florida. She has a master’s degree in public administration from Florida Gulf Coast University.