The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Tennessee asked the state of Tennessee to release all records regarding an announced charter school partnership with Hillsdale College.
The organization sent open records requests on Monday, requesting information about Governor Bill Lee’s (R-TN) “developing partnership with Hillsdale College to establish a number of publicly funded charter schools in Tennessee,” a press statement said.
“Gov. Lee has been developing a partnership with the out-of-state, private, Christian institution Hillsdale College to establish a number of publicly funded charter schools in Tennessee,” the ACLU tweeted Monday. “We demand that Gov. Lee release the agreement and related records.”
Gov. Lee has been developing a partnership with the out-of-state, private, Christian institution Hillsdale College to establish a number of publicly funded charter schools in Tennessee.
We demand that Gov. Lee release the agreement and related records: https://t.co/ygRIW5XFFw
— ACLU of Tennessee (@aclutn) February 28, 2022
Hedy Weinberg, ACLU of Tennessee executive director, said in the organization’s statement:
Outsourcing the operation of our public schools to a private, out-of-state religious college is not in the best interest of Tennessee’s children and is deeply concerning. Governor Lee’s plan raises serious constitutional concerns, and the public deserves full transparency so that they know about any financial arrangement and other details of this agreement, as well as its impact on public education.
“The letters request copies of any agreements or draft agreements between the state and the private, Christian institution; communications between various state offices and the school; and records of any payments made by the state to the school,” the press statement indicated.
As The Tennessee Star reported in early February, Hillsdale College announced it would begin to offer its support to the formation of classical charter schools in Tennessee, free of charge, through a partnership with charter management organization American Classical Education, Inc.
In his State of the State address delivered January 31, Lee unveiled a $52.6 billion budget plan that seeks to put an additional $1 billion toward K-12 education, including $32 million toward charter school facilities.
The governor also highlighted his work to formalize a partnership with Hillsdale College to expand K-12 education in Tennessee.
Kathleen O’Toole, assistant provost for K-12 Education at Hillsdale College, said in the College’s announcement:
When Governor Lee visited Hillsdale College, he was impressed with the College’s ongoing efforts in supporting K-12 schools with classical curriculum and training for school boards, leaders, and teachers. Here at the College’s K-12 Education office, we help schools to provide the type of education that all Americans both need and deserve — one that is rooted in the liberal arts and sciences, offers a firm grounding in civic virtue, and cultivates moral character.
“Hillsdale is involved in a number of initiatives that align with our priorities in Tennessee,” Lee spokesperson Casey Black said in a statement to the Tennessean the day after Lee’s address, noting the effort includes expanding “high-quality education options for Tennessee students” and the formation of new charter schools.
The Tennessee Star reached out to the Tennessee Department of Education and Hillsdale College. Brian Brackley, director of media at the Tennessee Department of Education responded, “We have received [ACLU of Tennessee’s] request and are moving forward to fulfill their request in compliance with Tennessee Public Records Act.”
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Susan Berry, PhD, is national education editor at The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected]