Tennessee Partners With Hillsdale College In Statewide Charter School Initiative
Bill Lee, governor of Tennessee, speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas, Texas, U.S., on Saturday, July 10, 2021. The three-day conference is titled "America UnCanceled." Photographer: Dylan Hollingsworth/Bloomberg
Dylan Hollingsworth/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee (R) announced on Monday a state partnership with Michigan’s Hillsdale College to launch a number of K-12 charter schools.

Lee announced the partnership during his state of the state address on Monday evening in front of a special joint session of the state Legislature. Hillsdale College is a liberal arts college in southern Michigan known for its refusal to accept federal funds. The college has launched an initiative to revitalize “public education through the launch and support of classical K-12 charter schools.”

Lee and Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn are working together to build a system of charter schools in Tennessee.

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

In an education-heavy speech, Lee leaned into the Tennessee state motto, “America at its best,” asserting that his state should be a model of governance for other states as well as the federal government. He touted the state’s conservative governance, from passing additional restrictions on abortion to pushing forward greater transparency in schools.

Lee also addressed the impact in Tennessee of national issues such as immigration and growing tensions between the United States and China.

Tennessee was one of multiple states to send national guardsmen to the U.S. southern border after the governors of Texas and Arizona put out a call for aid in policing illegal immigration from Mexico. Lee said that illegal immigration on the southern border is driving drug trafficking and other illegal activity in Tennessee.

“Both drug trafficking and human trafficking are on the rise in our country and in Tennessee. This is unacceptable,” Lee said before noting that 50 Tennessee National Guardsmen had left for the southern border last week.

On China, Lee said that Tennessee has banned Confucius Institutes, China-funded centers that have sparked concerns of Chinese propaganda in Washington, from college campuses. The governor said his administration is working to strengthen the vetting of companies working with and moving into Tennessee to cut off connections to countries such as China.

Lee announced a plan to provide “every house of worship” with “high quality safety training” to protect against terror, hate, and other attacks targeting religious groups. He based the plan on the experience of a Texas rabbi who credited such training for his escape from a hostage situation.

The governor announced a host of education initiatives, including an overhaul of a roughly 30-year-old system of funding for school districts, shifting it from a school-focused system to a student-focused system.

“A formula that prioritizes the needs of students above all else, and that pays particular attention to students with disabilities, rural students, low income-students, and students with other priority needs,” Lee said. “If we do this correctly, we can create a funding formula that demands accountability and rewards districts for performance, but most importantly funds students and not bureaucracies.”

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