NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – After some bi-partisan pushback, Governor Bill Lee is defending his plan to expand charter schools and his administration’s controversial relationship with Hillsdale College.
“We want charter school operators in this state from all over the country,” Lee said following an address to the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.
It’s one of Governor Lee’s most direct pitches for the expansion of charter schools in the state of Tennessee. “Any, high-quality charter school operator that wants to locate in this state we want them to consider that,” he said.
The 50th governor of Tennessee is striking back to keep his education agenda afloat with just weeks left in the legislative session.
“We have 22 operators, we have 116 charters, that educate 44,000 kids — 91% of those kids are minority students that come from — many of them come from difficult zip codes and neighborhoods in our state. We need to give them and we should make certain that we give the parents who choose that public school options for their kids,” Lee said.
Democrats say they’re not buying it. “Thirty-seven percent of charter schools perform below 5% success, 77% perform below 10% success and they’re cherry-picking students,” said Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville).
Johnson, a former public school teacher, said Governor Lee’s plan is a bad idea for communities. “When we proliferate charters, charter schools get paid first and so when that happens you’re going to get what’s left and charter schools eat up a whole lot of dollars — you’ve seen it in the Nashville budget when the comptroller’s office looked at that— the comptroller’s office will tell you charter schools aren’t a good dollar bet.”
Lee is also defending his relationship with Hillsdale College, a private Michigan College with a network of charters that’s been accused of misrepresenting United States history.
“I think that’s why there will be a vetting process for them through the state department of educations — my obligation is to attract high-quality charter management organizations,” Lee said.
“Tennesseans don’t want it and they certainly don’t want that partnership with Hillsdale,” Johnson said.
Tennessee is set to spend $9.4 billion this year on education and $9 billion in subsequent years if the governor’s budget passes.
After three years, districts will have to match 30 percent of state funds, which some say could cause a property tax hike.