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After special education contract fiasco, Texas official considered for Massachusetts job

Penny Schwinn, who oversees Texas Education Agency policy on special education, is a finalist for Massachusetts education commissioner — a month after a special education contract she spearheaded took a nosedive.

Penny Schwinn is responsible for overseeing the TEA Assessment and Accountability Division, as well as Standards and Programs.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comment from a Texas Education Agency spokesperson.

Penny Schwinn, the Texas Education Agency's deputy commissioner of academics, is a finalist for a job as Massachusetts education commissioner — a month after a special education contract she spearheaded took a nosedive.

According to a release from Massachusetts' state education agency, Schwinn is one of three finalists for the job, after a committee conducted interviews with a pool of 18 candidates in December and January. The Massachusetts state board of education will publicly interview Schwinn and the two other finalists on Jan. 26 in Boston and will select its new commissioner Jan. 29.

As deputy commissioner of academics, Schwinn oversees the agency's policies on testing and academic programs, including special education. Hired in April 2016, Schwinn spearheaded a no-bid contract with a Georgia-based company last year to mine data from thousands of students receiving special education services and to help create a long-term plan to help kids with disabilities. When advocates protested, the TEA terminated that contract in December, after spending $2.2 million for services rendered, and vowed to review its contracting processes.

The TEA fired its special education director, Laurie Kash, after she spoke out against the contract. TEA officials said they fired her because she hadn't disclosed allegations from a prior job in Oregon that she covered up sexual abuse of a 6-year-old.

The state is in hot water with the federal government and parent advocates, with a federal report finding last week that it had effectively capped the number of students with disabilities who could receive services. At the demand of Gov. Greg Abbott, the TEA is expected to come out with a plan this week to reform special education.

In a statement Tuesday, TEA spokesperson DeEtta Culbertson said that Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath was aware Schwinn was being considered for the Massachusetts job and that Schwinn's "professional background and leadership reflects a distinguished career committed to schoolchildren."

"Penny Schwinn continues to do an outstanding job at the Texas Education Agency and would be a tremendous leader for the state of Massachusetts," Culbertson said. 

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