Ain’t Dunn yet: Recently retired lawmaker named education adviser

House Speaker Pro Tem Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) presents school voucher legislation on May 1, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Just days after officially ending his time as a state lawmaker, former Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) has been hired as a senior adviser to state Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn.

Dunn, who was first elected to the House in 1994, was the longtime sponsor of efforts to pass school voucher legislation, which finally succeeded in 2019 only to be tied up in court over constitutional questions of having the program apply only to the state’s two largest counties without the backing of voters of local legislative bodies. The new job pays $98,000 per year.

Here’s an excerpt of what The Tennessee Journal wrote on the occasion of Dunn’s retirement announcement in September 2019:

An arborist by profession, the devout Catholic and father of five has referred to himself as a “bleeding heart conservative.” While he was unafraid to champion controversial causes and challenge Democratic leaders (on his first day in office in 1995, he was the only Republican to vote against the re-election of Rep. Jimmy Naifeh as speaker), Dunn became known for his easygoing style and sense of humor. For example, when a House subcommittee was on the verge of killing his proposal to convert pre-kindergarten to a summer program in 2006, Dunn suggested the panel instead study the idea over the summer. It didn’t work, but it got a good laugh. […]

Not all of Dunn’s efforts were futile. His multi-year effort to enact a constitutional ban on gay marriage overwhelmingly passed both chambers of the General Assembly while Democrats were in charge. The measure received more than 80% of the vote in the 2006 election. Dunn was also a major supporter of a constitutional amendment approved in 2014 to restore state lawmakers’ power to restrict access to abortions.

“You can go out dead, defeated, or on your own terms. I don’t like the first two choices, so the third one’s rather appealing.”

—Dunn to WKRN-TV about his plans to retire from the House.

The Republican takeover of the General Assembly cleared the path for several controversial measures sponsored by Dunn, including 2011 bills to do away with collective bargaining rights for teachers and dial back their tenure protections. He passed a 2012 bill to protect teachers who allow students to criticize evolution and climate change. Then-Gov. Bill Haslam let the so-called “monkey bill” become law without his signature.

Dunn supported Haslam’s Improve Act to boost road funding, which included a 6-cent gas tax hike but also featured several tax cuts in other areas. Dunn was one of two Republicans to vote against a 2016 conference committee deal to eliminate the state’s Hall income tax on stock and bond earnings by 2022 on the basis that it didn’t create a replacement tax or cut other programs. […]

Dunn flirted with a bid to succeed Casada as speaker on a platform of returning a “level of boredom” to the chamber, but ultimately bowed out of the race. In announcing his retirement plans, Dunn said he wanted to leave on a “high point” of passing the voucher bill and another law to trigger a ban on abortions in Tennessee should Roe v. Wade be overturned.

14 Responses to Ain’t Dunn yet: Recently retired lawmaker named education adviser

  • Avatar
    James White says:

    I for one am glad Dunn is helping Schwinn. Vouchers may not be the answer, but it is a step to get the government out of control education. The parents should decide and be allowed to use their ‘tax’ money at the same time. As more federal programs come and go, the stats for the kids go down.
    Home School has increased, so maybe we will have people with critical thinking skills and a solid education in the future.

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  • Avatar
    Phillip Lassiter says:

    More voucher payoff. The FBI should really step in Again

    • Avatar
      Lance Persson says:

      Phillip, It sure would be nice if you would show the FACTS as to why you oppose vouchers rather than just making a snide remark. What I have learned is that vouchers can provide a means for parents to judge where their children will get the best the education. It also establishes competition for the best teachers which doesn’t exists now. That should lead to higher salaries for the most effective teachers.

  • Avatar
    Phillip Lassiter says:

    More fraud -there is a hiring freeze and he was still hired. Also, I cannot find where the job was posted I’m sure the FBI will handle all that

  • Avatar
    Martin D Kennedy says:

    A model legislator. Perhaps, Charlie Baum takes over that designation.

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    steve cates says:

    Just what we need: another old, worn out republican legislator to move into a well-paid job for a department which needs REAL TEACHERS to be “senior advisors”!!! It’s downhill all the way for this department and for public education in TN!!!

  • Avatar
    Cannoneer2 says:

    At the same time, the Governor is asking for huge cuts from each department this coming year. For the upper executive class in Tennessee state government, the Gravy Train rolls on.

  • Avatar
    Charles says:

    Facts about vouchers are too many to list all. 1. Hurt the public schools; 2, Vouchers defeated in every public referendum for 30 years; 3 . No accountability; 4. No proof of improvement by students; 5. Promoted by outside organizations; 6. Usually do not cover full tuition; 7. The real choice is made by the school not the parent; 8. Voucher schools often discriminate; 9. About 90% of voucher money goes to certain religious groups to educate in religion; 10. Many schools want autonomy from government. Come shekels – come shackles.

    • Avatar
      Stuart I. Anderson says:

      1. By their very nature there is no reason vouchers have to “Hurt the public schools” if the government schools are run as efficiently as private schools.
      2. “Vouchers are defeated in. . .public referendum. . . .” because the government school trust consisting of teacher’s unions and the various organizations made up of different sectors of the government school bureaucracy pour $millions into defeating the forces that will bring the bracing fresh air of competition to primary and secondary school education in America.
      3 & 4. In a free market schools should be accountable to the parents for they are the best judge of which school is best for their child so tax money for education should simply follow the children and let the parents decide how the money for education should be spent.
      5. Generally speaking governments are notorious for running inefficient organizations so goods and services are best provided by “outside organizations” operating in a competitive market place whenever possible which will result in government schools being more efficient too.
      6. Taxpayers will decide how much money should be devoted to the education of children and schools will have to operate within that financial parameters as they do now with competition holding down the cost as it does in every other free marketplace.
      7. ??????
      8. Different schools should be different in all types of legal ways for that’s one of the benefits of competition and choice by consumers. After all, our liberal friends tell us we are supposed to “celebrate diversity.”
      9. Most parents want to raise their children with a grounding in religion, some don’t, different schools will take different approaches to religion that will reflect that diversity of opinion.
      10. Ideally, government should get out of the education business other than guaranteeing that every school produces children that have a minimum degree of literacy and numeracy.

      Come competition – come freedom, efficiency and excellence.

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