NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Governor Bill Lee, a Republican, wants more charter schools in Tennessee. But his public partnership with conservative Hillsdale College is drawing disapproval among public school education advocates, pastors, and parents.
The controversial religious leaning charter school could be coming to Tennessee neighborhoods soon after a new school funding formula is passed into law.
“Hillsdale’s charter schools in our state will be public secular classical education schools,” Governor Lee contends.
He is touting his relationship with Hillsdale, a private Christian school in Michigan with close ties to former President Trump’s administration. “I’m encouraged by the expansion and growth of charter schools and all public schools in our state,” Lee added.
But Hillsdale writes in their mission statement:
“As a nonsectarian Christian institution, Hillsdale College maintains ‘by precept and example’ the immemorial teachings and practices of the Christian faith.”
Rev Dr. Kevin Riggs is the Pastor of Franklin Community Church. “Governor Lee is funding his pet project by using taxpayer dollars to fund Christian charter schools,” Riggs said.
The agreement made by Lee and the president of Hillsdale to bring about 50 to 100 charter schools to the state is not sitting well with parents, pastors, and advocates.
“Over time as charter schools cause existing schools to become both under-enrolled and underfunded, districts are left with the difficult discussion of whether to close neighborhood schools to try to offset the cost of funding charter schools,” said Amy Frogge, Executive Director of Pastors for Tennessee Children.
Governor Lee is presenting millions of dollars in his budget for Hillsdale and other charter schools.
Frogge reading a letter from a former charter school parent during a press gathering of clergy about the charter schools initiative said: “Charter schools are just another way for private entities to funnel money into their own pockets, they use black and brown students to get what they want.”
Democrats call the support for Hillsdale an indoctrination effort. “I think at the end of the day it’s an end-around to try to get vouchers instituted in Tennessee, I think he wants to create a new brand private school that’s going to be Christian-based-indoctrinating kids.”
Tennessee is ranked in the bottom five in public school funding. Schools are underfunded by the legislature, about $2 billion a year.