June 2, 2023

Andy Spears: Hillsdale’s Goal: The Collapse of Public Schools

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Andy Spears follows educational issues in Tennessee, where conservative Hillsdale College has been seeking a foothold for a while.

Hillsdale College’s Christian Nationalist charter school network gained a foothold in Tennessee recently when the Rutherford County School Board approved an application from Hillsdale-affiliated American Classical Academy to operate a charter school there.

A recent piece in the Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle explains Hillsdale’s ultimate goal: The complete collapse of public education.

Vanderbilt law professor Joni Hersch offers:

In some cases, the ultimate objective of charter schools is not improved education, but privatization of public education at the public expense. Salon.com reported that a charter school network affiliated with Hillsdale College has publicly announced their intention to lure students away from traditional public schools until they collapse while advancing their deeply conservative political and social values. Hillsdale College is deeply connected to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ wide-ranging “anti-woke” education agenda for Florida.

Hersch explains that even when there is broad public opposition to Hillsdale’s charters (as has been the case in the Tennessee districts where Hillsdale has applied to operate), the school has found a way to foist its charters on districts:

Hillsdale-affiliated charters have been especially creative in circumventing opposition to expansion. In Wisconsin, Hillsdale exploited the ability of tribal colleges to authorize charter schools after its proposed charter school in suburban Milwaukee was declined by every other authorizer in the state. In Colorado, the 1776 Project PAC intervened in local school board elections, helping fill the board with charter school supporters in two counties where Hillsdale-affiliated charter schools operate and are applying to operate. In addition to receiving financial support from the state, Tennessee created an easier path for the entry of Hillsdale charters. With the support of the state legislature, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee created a state educational board that could overrule any local denial of charter school applications.

A recent analysis of the potential fiscal impact of Hillsdale charters in Tennessee shows that if all five Hillsdale charters ultimately get approved, local taxpayers could be stuck with a tab of an additional $35 million a year.

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