Williamson Parents Speak Out Against Charter School

Founders Classical Academy is a charter school that has applied to operate in Williamson County. That application was rejected – not once, but twice by the Williamson County School Board.

Now, Founders is appealing to the Tennessee Charter School Commission. If the Commission grants the appeal, Founders will open in Williamson County despite the objection of the elected school board.

Parents in Williamson County don’t seem happy about this possibility.

Here’s more from NewsBreak:

Jeni Davis, lifelong Tennessean, and parent of a Williamson County Schools student and a public school advocate, shared why she wants the State Charter School Commission to vote against Founders Classical Academy forcing themselves into the Williamson County Schools. “First of all, we believe that children across the state – all Tennessee children – deserve access to a high quality education with high quality curriculum that meets state standards and prepares all students to become successful and productive adult members of our community. And these classical charter schools, including Founders Classical Academy, do not meet these standards and putting them into our communities would be a great disservice to our students. This is why the school board has already voted against the school twice.”

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Sumner Advocates Speak Out Against Charter School

A group of public education advocates in Sumner County spoke out against Founders Classical Academy’s charter application this week.

Here’s more from NewsBreak:

A group of public education advocates gathered today at a hearing by the Tennessee State Charter School Commission in Sumner County. The group urged the Commission to reject a charter school application from Founders Classical Academy. The Sumner County School Board previously rejected the application from Founders and the charter school is now appealing to the State Commission.

Rev. Matt Steinhauer, lifelong Sumner County resident and retired ELCA pastor, emphasized that the local school board has already voted twice against this charter school and that if the State Charter School Commission votes to allow Founders Classical Academy into their community it would override the will of the community and the school board. “I think we can all agree that all Tennessee children, all of them, deserve access to a high-quality education with high quality curriculum that meets state standards and prepares all students to become successful and productive adult members of our community. Forcing charter schools into our local school districts makes this harder to achieve when what we should be doing is making sure that our public community schools are invested in as much as any other state.” 

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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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Damage Control

There’s a new player in the Tennessee education news landscape. Really, it’s an old player dressed up in a friendly new package.

Tennessee Firefly is an education news source that effectively serves as a mouthpiece for the forces of school privatization. Sky Arnold heads it up. Sky is formerly of the local FOX affiliate and before Firefly, was the communications chief over at Tennesseans for Student Success. Yes, Tennesseans for Student Success now has its own education news organ.

Here’s how they describe their mission:

That’s interesting because TNEdReport has been offering the truth about education news in the state since 2013. There’s also Chalkbeat. And, of course, Dad Gone Wild.

In short, there’s no shortage of people and outlets offering clear analysis on education news in the state. Heck, the Tennessean and Daily Memphian offer up regular doses of education news. There’s even Center Square.

Still, Tennesseans for Student Success, fresh off some big wins in the August GOP primaries, is hungry for more – and now seeks to drive the media narrative around school privatization with an outlet of their own.

What’s the real deal? It all comes down to Hillsdale College. The controversy over Hillsdale’s charter applications has caused the public – and policymakers – to take a new look at privatization by way of charter school.

Here’s Firefly saying that while the Hillsdale controversy may look bad, it’s cool to go charter:

Seems everyone is running away from Larry Arnn and Hillsdale – even though they have three schools (in Madison, Montgomery, and Rutherford) appealing to the State Charter Commission to gain access to local public funds despite objections from local school boards.

Here’s a bit more about Tennesseans for Student Success and their aggressive pursuit of privatization by any means necessary:

Anyway, watch out for the education firefly offering “news” slanted to promote a privatization agenda.

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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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