Hillsdale Circus Comes to Rutherford County

Controversial Michigan-based charter school operator Hillsdale College brought its roadshow to Rutherford County this week and parents and public school advocates spoke out against the school locating in their community.

Nashville’s NewsChannel5 reported on the events surrounding a hearing conducted by the Tennessee State Charter School Commission. While the Rutherford County School Board rejected Hillsdale-affiliated American Classical Academy’s charter application, the school has appealed to the unelected state board to override the local decision. All members of the Commission were appointed by current governor and charter school supporter Bill Lee.

The Hillsdale-affiliated American Classical Academy is asking the commission to overturn the decision by the Rutherford County school board to deny their application for taxpayer funding for their privately operated charter school.

Rutherford County officials argue that the Hillsdale schools do not have a good track record when it comes to students with disabilities, those who are economically disadvantaged and the lowest performing children.

Here’s what Rutherford County Schools had to say about the Hillsdale application:

https://twitter.com/TheTNHoller/status/1570150496354140168?s=20&t=mssDevQQu2X0qAeSaVtsAg
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The Truth About Hillsdale

Hillsdale College Larry Arnn is mad that people in Tennessee are telling the truth about his intentions. He’s even more mad that he was caught on tape making disparaging remarks about teachers and colleges of education. He’s not sorry about what he said. He’s made that clear. He IS sorry that when he told the truth, it disrupted his plans to shift public money to his private school pushing a Christian Nationalist agenda by way of Hillsdale-affiliated charter schools.

Now, Hillsdale is texting Tennesseans with a link to a page that tells the “truth” about Hillsdale.

Phil Williams of NewsChannel5 has more:

Here’s the deal: Hillsdale-affiliated charters were rejected by three Tennessee school boards. All three have since appealed to the State Charter Commission. If those appeals are successful, Hillsdale-affiliated charters will open in Tennessee in 2023. They’ll get public money to advance their extreme agenda.

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Hillsdale on the March

Despite rhetoric from GOP legislators suggesting that Tennessee will “sever ties” with controversial Hillsdale College, it now appears that all three charter schools with a Hillsdale affiliation are appealing to the State Charter Commission to overturn local school board decisions. If approved, the charter schools would open in Madison, Montgomery, and Rutherford counties in 2023.

While I don’t normally do this, I’m going to go ahead and suggest that the Hillsdale charters will all be approved. Believe me, I’d love to write a story about the denial of all three applications. But that won’t happen.

Here’s the deal: When you vote for Bill Lee’s charter commission, you vote to allow Lee to override local school boards and install whatever charter he likes. When you vote to open the door to charters, you vote to erode local control. When you fail to stop Lee’s agreement with Hillsdale during the 2022 legislative session, you have already decided the wishes of your local school board and county commission don’t matter. By supporting Lee’s backdoor privatization agenda, you have told voters in your communities that they don’t matter.

This development is not at all surprising. It is exactly the kind of scheme Bill Lee promised even before he was a candidate for governor back in 2018. It is what his campaign was about. If there was any doubt, he erased it 100% in his 2022 State of the State.

These three counties are not the end. If Lee and his General Assembly allies have their way, there will be 50 or more Hillsdale charters in communities across the state. Vouchers, too, will take public dollars and funnel them to private schools.

This has been the plan all along, and Bill Lee is executing that plan no matter what he says in the face of pressure from reporters.

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So Much for Severing Ties

While the controversy over remarks made by Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn has Republicans – including Gov. Bill Lee – arguing with Bill Lee’s vision for a Hillsdale takeover of Tennessee public education, that hasn’t stopped Hillsdale-affiliated charter schools from continuing the quest for Tennessee tax dollars.

Phil Williams of NewsChannel5 reports that a Hillsdale-affiliated charter school in Madison County has appealed to the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission to overturn the local decision to reject the school:

And, as Williams notes, while the school claims to be “separate” from Hillsdale, the top three proposed board members (Chair, Treasurer, and Secretary) are all current employees of Hillsdale.

I’ve written a lot about Hillsdale, and you can find a good summary of that here.

If, as Gov. Lee most recently said, a group of Hillsdale charter’s is “not his vision,” then now would be a good time for him to speak up and discourage the American Classical Academy from pursuing its appeal.

Of course, he won’t do that. While I’d love to write an article that says the state charter board has denied this appeal (and the likely similar appeals in Montgomery and Rutherford counties), I seriously doubt that will be the case.

Here’s what American Classical has to say about its work in Tennessee:

K-5 CLASSICAL CHARTER SCHOOLS WILL OPEN IN THESE TENNESSEE COUNTIES IN FALL 2023 (emphasis added).

It doesn’t say they’ve applied to open, or that in cooperation with local school boards, they plan to open. It says, “will open.”

And, despite the resounding rejection by local school boards, American Classical is appealing to the state charter commission which could greenlight them to open in 2023.

The American Classical site also includes this note about the schools it (so far) plans to open in 2023:

Montgomery County Classical Academy will begin by serving Kindergarten-Grade 5 with a planned enrollment of 325 students in our first year and add a grade each year until the school can offer a complete K-12 classical education experience.

That same verbiage is included in Madison and Rutherford counties.

Here’s the deal: 2023 is the first year of school funding under the new, TISA model. This means the charters stand to get more money – based of just under $7000 per student PLUS weights for a variety of categories.

Taking it at just the base, though, each of these districts stands to lose nearly $2.3 million in funding in YEAR ONE of the charter school opening.

While it may SEEM that the transfer of students would lead to a corresponding reduction in local costs, it likely won’t. First, it’s not like these students will all come from the same zone or school, so reducing staff at schools is unlikely. At best, you’d be looking at 2-3 teaching position reductions.

The districts, though, will still have the same fixed costs – transportation, building operation and maintenance, etc. They’ll just have about $2 million LESS to use to operate.

Here’s some insight from the costs associated with charters in Nashville:

In short, thanks to Bill Lee’s vision (the one he’s now trying to unsee), these three districts are likely to see a significant funding hit in 2023. And Hillsdale is likely to be cashing in on Tennessee tax dollars to advance its agenda of evangelical exceptionalism.

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Lee vs. Lee

It seems that July 2022 Bill Lee needs to go back and have a conversation with January 2022 Bill Lee. You see, July Bill Lee is out there doing damage control over a controversy regarding Hillsdale College.

Even early July Bill Lee was doubling down on attacks on public education and defending Hillsdale President Larry Arnn.

Now, though, Lee is backing away from Hillsdale – or, at least he’s claiming that his January 2022 vision for Tennessee is “not his vision.”

NewsChannel5’s Phil Williams has been relentless in pursuit of the Hillsdale story and recently caught up with Lee. Here’s what Lee had to say:

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Lee why those school board votes should not be seen as a repudiation of his vision of Hillsdale being a key part of his “school choice” efforts.

“It shouldn’t be seen that way because it’s not my vision,” Lee claimed, adding that his vision is “to create the best public school system in the country.”

Lee had asked Arnn to help establish 50 to 100 of the taxpayer-funded schools across the state as part of his push for “informed patriotism” in schools.

It’s pretty interesting that Lee seems to think that no one remembers his State of the State address and his embrace of American exceptionalism. Or, more specifically, Lee’s direct reference to Hillsdale as a beacon of hope for patriotic Americans.

Here’s what Lee said in his January State of the State:

Two years ago, I traveled to Hillsdale College to participate in a Presidents Day celebration and spend time with champions of American exceptionalism.

For decades, Hillsdale College has been the standard bearer in quality curriculum and the responsibility of preserving American liberty.

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.

And, Lee is working to create an “Institute for American Civics” at UT that borrows curriculum from Hillsdale:

The College Fix notes:

As part of his “America at its Best” agenda, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee allocated $6 million to establish the institute.

Furthermore, Lee said he has formalized a partnership with Hillsdale College to ensure that the Christian school’s philosophies and teaching methods on civics education are brought to the institute.

Anyway, it’d be great if July 2022 Bill Lee could go and catch up with January Bill Lee and tell him to scrap the part of his speech about being all cozy with Hillsdale.

Even better (and less likely) would be if July Bill Lee would actually stand up for Tennessee teachers and public schools and sever all ties with Larry Arnn and Hillsdale.

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Another Hillsdale Rejection

Hillsdale College is having a bit of a moment in Tennessee and the hits just keep on coming.

Just one day after the Rutherford County School Board rejected a Hillsdale charter school, the Clarksville-Montgomery County School Board did the same.

NewsChannel5 has more on Clarksville’s move against Hillsdale:

A charter school program tied to the controversial Hillsdale College suffered a third rejection by a Tennessee school board Tuesday night as the Clarksville-Montgomery County school board said it wanted nothing to do with the school pushed by Gov. Bill Lee.

With no debate, the Board of Education unanimously voted to reject the application of the Hillsdale-affiliated American Classical Academy. That follows similar votes by school boards in Rutherford County and Madison County.

While these districts continue to reject Hillsdale charters, it seems quite possible that Gov. Bill Lee’s unelected charter commission will force the charters on the districts.

So, the local elected leaders have no say and an unelected board loyal to Lee will decide what’s “best” for these communities.

This should come as no surprise considering Lee’s history:

It’s all part of an agenda to funnel public dollars to private schools with a decidedly evangelical bent.

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Rutherford Rejects Hillsdale Charter

The Rutherford County School Board rejected a charter school application from a Hillsdale-affiliated school last night. The vote was 6-1 against.

Here’s one Rutherford County School Board member talking about the problems with charter schools, Gov. Bill Lee, and Hillsdale President Larry Arnn:

https://twitter.com/TheTNHoller/status/1549478212119547904?s=20&t=fC4-gH_Cg1Cba-14C6Rknw

Arnn’s recent comments disparaging teachers certainly didn’t help matters.

Following the vote, the Southern Christian Coalition issued a statement applauding the move and calling on Gov. Lee to sever all ties with Hillsdale.

Here’s more on that from NewsBreak:

Following the Rutherford County School Board’s rejection of a charter school affiliated with Hillsdale College, pastors affiliated with the Southern Christian Coalition hailed the move and called on Gov. Lee and state policymakers to sever all ties with the private college in Michigan.

Coalition member Rev. Donna Whitney of Metro Interdenominational Church in Nashville released a video statement in which she applauded the Rutherford County decision and pushed Lee to take action to end Tennessee’s Hillsdale connection.

“I’m grateful that the Rutherford County School Board rejected the application of American Classical Academy, a charter school connected to Larry Arnn and Hillsdale College. Since January when Governor Lee announced that he wanted to open 100 Hillsdale charter schools in Tennessee, I have been speaking out against this plan due to the school’s failure to appropriately separate church and state in our public schools and because of the fact that their history curriculum whitewashes history. All children across the state deserve access to a high-quality education with high quality curriculum that meets state standards and prepares them to become successful and productive adult members of our community, and these schools would instead be a disservice to our students.

“The comments made by Larry Arnn, President of Hillsdale College, an education advisor to Governor Lee, that ‘teachers come from the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges’ is just further proof that Governor Lee needs to distance himself from Hillsdale and abandon his attempts to bring Hillsdale Schools to Tennessee. These schools erase the line between church and state and are an attempt to bring White Christian Nationalism into our public schools.”

Whitney ended her remarks with an appeal for full funding of the state’s public schools.

“So today I am asking for Governor Lee to abandon this ill-advised partnership and instead finally fully fund our public schools as much as any other state so that every child in Tennessee has access to a quality public education that prepares them to thrive as productive and successful adults who enrich our Tennessee communities.”

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An Unapologetic Apology

Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn came under fire recently for comments he made at an event with Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee. Arnn said, among other things, that “teachers come from the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges.”

Lee not only silently listened on while Arnn attacked teachers, but he also later doubled down, indicating his support for the general premise of Arnn’s statements.

Today, Arnn published an OpEd in which he apologized “if” he had caused trouble for Lee. He then noted that he meant what he said about teachers and the colleges that train them.

In reference to his comments about the “dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges,” Arnn said:

I have said this many times, in public and in private, and will likely say it again. This time it was important because Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee was present. Many were outraged. I was not speaking for the governor, and I would rather do anything than embarrass him. If I have done that, I apologize to him. 

Note he’s apologizing to Lee here, not to teachers in Tennessee.

It’s no wonder he wants to keep Lee happy. The aftermath of Arnn’s remarks, caught on video, has caused some in Lee’s own Republican party to at least say words about cancelling any relationship with Hillsdale. Larry definitely wants to keep the money flowing to his small, fundamentalist Christian school.

Arnn proceeds to disparage the teaching of pedagogical concepts such as diversity, equity, and inclusion – he mentions them as if they are a waste of time, rather than relevant concepts important to the day-to-day work of educators.

Many undergraduate education programs emphasize areas unrelated to the content covered in K-12 classrooms (such as administrative practices, classroom technology, counseling and diversity, equity and inclusion). As well-intentioned as they may be, these programs often steer educators away from the subject matter and toward a political agenda.

Here’s a bit more about the curriculum Arnn’s school promotes at its charters and also offers to schools around the country:

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.’”

Arnn is no fan of education around diversity, as NewsChannel5 notes:

Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Michigan’s ultra-conservative Hillsdale College, also takes aim at diversity efforts in higher education, claiming people in those positions have education degrees because they are “easy” and “you don’t have to know anything.”

In other words, Larry Arnn is sorry he got caught. Sorry that the backlash MAY cause a delay in the expansion of his empire of evangelical exceptionalism, may slow the flow of public dollars into his private institution.

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What About This?

House Education Committee Chair Mark White got some attention yesterday from remarks he made about Hillsdale College’s operation in Tennessee.

In response to a recent controversy over Hillsdale President and Lee education advisor Larry Arnn regarding disparaging comments Arnn made about teachers and colleges of education, White indicated that the incident “shattered” Hillsdale’s hopes of operating in Tennessee.

Except, well, the plans for a UT Institute of American Civics based on Hillsdale’s curriculum appear to be moving right along.

The College Fix notes:

As part of his “America at its Best” agenda, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee allocated $6 million to establish the institute.

Furthermore, Lee said he has formalized a partnership with Hillsdale College to ensure that the Christian school’s philosophies and teaching methods on civics education are brought to the institute.

So, has Mark White talked with Bill Lee and UT President Randy Boyd about shelving plans for the Institute? Has he advised them of a desire to kick Hillsdale out of the plans for it?

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Is Hillsdale Cancelled?

The fallout from Gov. Lee’s silence as an education advisor disparaged teachers continues to grow. This time, House Education Committee Chair Mark White is speaking out – saying the state must sever ties with Hillsdale.

https://twitter.com/TheTNHoller/status/1546521735482179587?s=20&t=9yG9bcxmp8KFoANwIpPyzg

That’s a nice sentiment and it is good to see White take a public stance against Lee’s agenda.

However, it is worth noting here that charter schools affiliated with Hillsdale have already applied to operate in several middle Tennessee districts. While these districts have yet to approve a Hillsdale charter, the state charter commission – with all members appointed by Lee – can override local decisions.

So, while White may want to take action in January of 2023, it may be too late by then to stop Hillsdale from advancing its agenda of evangelical exceptionalism into Tennessee public schools.

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