NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — It started back in January.
“I believe their efforts are a good fit for Tennessee, and we are formalizing a partnership with Hillsdale to expand their approach to civics education and K-12 education,” Gov. Bill Lee (R-Tennessee) said in his ‘State of the State’ address.
Lee’s plan was to bring at least 50 charter schools affiliated with Hillsdale College in Michigan to the state of Tennessee.
“For decades, Hillsdale College has been the standard bearer in quality curriculum and the responsibility of preserving American liberty,” Lee said in his speech.
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It came after a year in American politics that saw education come to the forefront and Tennessee effectively ban Critical Race Theory.
“Political commentary is not something that we need to be teaching children,” Lee said back in August 2021.
Hillsdale identifies itself as a nonsectarian Christian college, and it has conservative ties. Its potential charter schools would receive public funding in the state.
Still though, it seemed that Lee’s charter plan would go over smoothly. Then, in late June, video was released of Hillsdale president Larry Arnn saying, “Teachers are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country,” while sitting feet from Lee.
It immediately drew widespread backlash.
“Do they want someone coming in from outside who thinks that anyone can teach students?” Metro Nashville Education Association president Michele Sheriff said. “That people who can’t make it in other parts of the university can go and are educated in the ‘dumbest parts of a university?’”
Lee then distanced himself from Arnn on July 20.
“There’s a lot of conversation about other people’s words,” Lee said. “There are a lot of folks who actually don’t want choice for families and for parents, and there’s a lot of pushback on that.”
Lee said he and Arnn spoke, and that 50 Hillsdale schools were no longer his vision.
“It’s not my vision,” Lee said. “My vision is to create the best public school system in the country.”
Reporters that day did ask Lee about what the conversation between the two might have entailed, but Lee didn’t divulge. “He talked, and I listened,” Lee said.
Around the same time in July, three local school boards rejected an application from American Classical Academy, which is affiliated with Hillsdale. The boards were Rutherford County, Clarksville-Montgomery County, and Madison County.
American Classical then appealed those decisions to the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission, which brings us to now.
“They need to go through the process like everybody else,” Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) said. “If the charter commission, who I have faith in with the chairman who’s running it…it’s their decision to make.”
On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, the charter commission, which Lee appointed, will hear those appeals in their respective areas.
“I think they need to review them very carefully and very diligently and make sure the decision is reflective of what the Hillsdale foundation, or whatever, can offer, and not get into, necessarily, personalities,” Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally said.
The meetings will include arguments on both sides plus public comment.
Of note, this is not the end of the discussion. The agenda does not show each meeting as having a decision made by the end. As of Tuesday afternoon, a timeline has not been set on whether or not the commission will accept the appeals.