In a recent closed-door meeting, secretly captured on video by a Nashville news station, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee listened intently and sipped water as a close education adviser to his administration accused teachers of “playing with people’s kids,” saying they were “trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country.” The adviser also likened public school systems to “slavery” and “the plague.” While the audience laughed at the remarks, Lee said nothing to dispute them.

When later asked about his adviser’s remarks, Lee defended them while claiming to support Tennessee teachers. “I’m not going to refute someone who was talking about leftist issues in public education in this country that have actually hurt the real work of our teachers,” Lee added.

Lee essentially guaranteed that these charters will be given the green light to operate in the state.

Who is this advisor and why is he advising the Governor of Tennessee on education policy?

Lee’s education policy contact is Larry Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College, a private evangelical Christian school in Michigan which, according to a recent boom in Living room“leading the right-wing’s national war on public schools”.

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

In January, Lee announced in his state of the state address that he had reached an agreement with Arnn for Hillsdale to operate up to 100 charter schools in Tennessee. In the past, charter schools required approval from the local school board. Now, however, if local school boards deny a charter application, charter operators can simply appeal to an unelected state charter school board in which each member of that panel is nominated by Lee.

Lee essentially guaranteed that these charters will be given the green light to operate in the state. In fact, Hillsdale-affiliated charters have already attempted to gain approval in Williamson, Montgomery, and Sumner counties, all located just outside of Nashville.

While local county school boards have coldly greeted the proposals, the appeals process before 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 curriculum for teaching civics in schools. The program “builds on approaches developed by Arnn and other Trump-appointed 1776 Commission members to develop ‘patriotic education’ for schools nationwide,” according to News Channel Five.

The program asks students to learn that “the civil rights movement was almost immediately transformed into programs that went against the lofty ideals of the founders,” notes News Channel Five. The Hillsdale Curriculum suggests that “modern social justice movements…are not based on the Founders’ views of equality, but on what they call ‘identity politics’ that make it ‘less likely that racial reconciliation and healing can be achieved”.

While it should come as no surprise that Tennessee, a red state, is adopting the Hillsdale model, the lesson is clear: Governor Lee has embarked on 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 board. Without it, the Hillsdale project would be unlikely to gain traction. 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 also worked to secure school vouchers. But Hillsdale charters don’t require a school voucher. Charters are, after all, entitled to public money even if they lack meaningful public scrutiny.

The second stage of Hillsdale’s transfer is a new “student-based” school funding formula. This means that each student will now carry a dollar value – a base statewide amount plus weightings for various categories, such as low-income families, high-poverty areas, special needs, and English language learners.

Charters therefore have an incentive to recruit students not only from low-income urban settings, but also from rural districts. Now, instead of a set dollar amount per student, charters should receive two or three times that base amount depending on the combination of student characteristics they accept.

When it comes to Hillsdale, however, these students will receive an education with a very specific curriculum.

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

When it comes to Hillsdale, however, these students will receive an education with a very specific curriculum.

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

According to a report published in the Miami Herald“A review of more than 200 pages of state presentations shows that the intent of the Founding Fathers and ‘misconceptions’ about their thinking was a primary theme of the training. One slide noted that the “Founders expected that religion was promoted because they believed it essential to civic virtue”.

Hillsdale’s footprint, however, is not limited to just reliable red states like Tennessee and Florida. The Living room A briefing on the extent of Hillsdale’s reach discusses the school’s work in California, where the college’s charter school program established the Orange County Classical Academy, “which is funded by taxpayer dollars but follows a private school-like curriculum ‘centered’ on the history and cultural achievements of Western civilization’ and an ambiguous mission to inculcate ‘virtue’.

Advocates of public education in Tennessee should take note: Governor Lee’s problematic idea of ​​a charter school board that was passed three years ago is now the vehicle for many of the schools in Hillsdale.

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

The battle for our public schools rages on, and the current climate has allowed a small college with a clearly Christian curriculum to gain outsized influence.