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A Private Christian College May Take Over Public Education in Tennessee –

In a recent closed-door meeting, secretly captured on video by a Nashville news station, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee listened attentively and sipped water as a close education advisor of his administration accused teachers of “messing with people’s children,” saying they are “trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country.” The advisor also compared public school systems to “enslavement” and “the plague.” As the audience laughed at these remarks, Lee said nothing to contest them.

When later asked about his advisor’s remarks, Lee defended them while claiming to support Tennessee teachers. “I’m not going to rebut someone who was speaking about left-wing problems in public education in this country that have actually hurt the genuine work of our teachers,” Lee added.

Lee has essentially guaranteed that these charters will receive a greenlight to operate in the state.

Who is this advisor and why is he advising Tennessee’s governor on education policy? 

Lee’s point person on education policy is Larry Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College, a private, Christian evangelical school located in Michigan that is, according to a recent explosé in Salon, “driving the right’s nationwide war on public schools.” 

Lee says he began an association with Arnn following a 2020 event at Hillsdale celebrating American exceptionalism. From that point on, it appears the two began talking regularly about education issues. 

In January, Lee announced in his State of the State address that he’d reached an agreement with Arnn for Hillsdale to operate up to 100 charter schools in Tennessee.In the past, charter schools required local school board approval. Now, however, if local school boards deny a charter request, the charter operators can simply appeal to an unelected state charter school commission in which each member of this group is appointed by Lee.

Lee has essentially guaranteed that these charters will receive a greenlight to operate in the state. In fact, Hillsdale-affiliated charters have already attempted to gain approval in Williamson, Montgomery, and Sumner counties, all of which are just outside of Nashville. 

While the counties’ local school boards gave the proposals a cool reception, the appeal process to the state commission holds promise for charter schools. In fact, a charter proposal rejected by the Rutherford County School Board was approved by the charter commission this year.

In addition to operating charter schools, Hillsdale also created the “1776 Curriculum,” a conservative program for teaching civics in schools. The curriculum “relies on approaches developed by Arnn and other members of the 1776 Commission appointed by Trump to develop a ‘patriotic education’ for the nation’s schools,” according to News Channel Five. 

The curriculum calls for students to be “taught that ‘the civil rights movement was almost immediately turned into programs that ran counter to the lofty ideals of the Founders,’ ” News Channel Five notes. Hillsdale’s curriculum suggests that “Modern social-justice movements…are not based on the Founders’ views of equality, but on what it calls ‘identity politics’ that make it ‘less likely that racial reconciliation and healing can be attained.’”

While it may be of little surprise that Tennessee, a red state, is embracing the Hillsdale model, the lesson here is clear: Governor Lee engaged in a multi-year effort to create the conditions that will allow Hillsdale to thrive in the state.

In 2019, Lee signed a bill to create his charter school commission. Without it, it would be unlikely for the Hillsdale project to gain ground. Lee’s earlier work on education policy is paying off as he now pursues the rapid advancement of charter schools in the state.

Lee and his allies have worked to secure school vouchers, too. But Hillsdale’s charters don’t require a school voucher. Charters are, after all, entitled to public money even though they lack meaningful public oversight.

The second step in the Hillsdale handover is a new school funding formula that is “student-based.” This means that each individual student will now carry a dollar value—a statewide base amount plus weights for various categories, such as low-income families, high poverty areas, special needs, and English language learners.

Charters, then, are incentivized to take students from not only low income urban environments, but also from rural districts. Now, instead of a fixed dollar amount per student, charters stand to receive two or three times that base amount depending on the mix of characteristics of the students they accept.

When it comes to Hillsdale, though, those students will be receiving an education with a very specific agenda.

States that do not yet have governors working with Larry Arnn and Hillsdale should be aware that the Hillsdale takeover model is a long-term, deliberate approach to giving public schools (and public dollars) to a private entity with a dogmatic agenda.

When it comes to Hillsdale, though, those students will be receiving an education with a very specific agenda.

Further evidence of this approach can be found in Florida, where Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has implemented a new civics training for teachers based on Hillsdale College’s curriculum. Teachers who attended the training said the program downplays slavery and argues that the framers of the Constitution did not believe in a “separation of church and state.”

According to a report in the Miami Herald, “a review of more than 200 pages of the state’s presentations shows the founding fathers’ intent and the ‘misconceptions’ about their thinking were a main theme of the training. One slide underscored that the ‘Founders expected religion to be promoted because they believed it to be essential to civic virtue.’”

Hillsdale’s imprint, though, isn’t limited to just reliably red states like Tennessee and Florida. The Salon exposé on the expansiveness of Hillsdale’s reach addresses the school’s work in California, where the college’s charter school program has created the Orange County Classical Academy, “which is funded with taxpayer money but follows a private school-like curriculum” centered “on the history and cultural achievements of Western civilization” and an ambiguous mission to instill “virtue.”

Tennessee advocates of public education should take note: Governor Lee’s problematic idea of a charter school commission that passed three years ago is now the vehicle for a slew of Hillsdale schools.

Policies allowing charter operators to access public dollars pave the way for entities like Hillsdale to use taxpayer funding to support an extreme agenda.

The battle for our public schools is raging, and the current climate has made it possible for a tiny college with a clearly Christian agenda to gain an outsized influence.

This content was originally published here.

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