NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – After the president of a Michigan college hoping to bring several charter schools to Tennessee made comments disparaging the education of public school teachers, a top Republican lawmaker from Bristol has concern about that college’s presence in Tennessee.
Gov. Bill Lee partnered with Hillsdale College, a conservative school in Michigan, to open several charter schools across the state.
But at a recent political event, Hillsdale President Dr. Larry Arnn appeared on-stage with Lee, and criticized the education of public school teachers.
News Channel 11’s Nashville CBS affiliate obtained hidden camera video of the event, in which Arnn said public school teachers came from the “dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges” and “you don’t have to know anything” to get an education degree.
During those comments, it was reported that Lee never defended Tennessee teachers.
That sparked outrage from several top Republican leaders, including some from the Tri-Cities.
State Sen. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol), who is the chair of the Senate Education Committee, said Arnn’s comments cast doubt on his plans to bring Hillsdale charter schools to the state.
“I truly believe behavior is the culture of leadership, and if that is what he believes, then I’ve got grave concerns on him wanting to come into Tennessee,” Lundberg said. “Anything that belittles them, frankly you’re belittling the state of Tennessee.”
Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby), the House Republican Caucus Chair, said in a tweet, “The vast majority of teachers have huge hearts and are in education because of their commitment to our children. To argue that they are bottom of the barrel is wrong & ignorant. The guy from Hillsdale doesn’t speak for any Tennessean I know.”
House Speaker Cameron Sexton also chimed in today on Twitter saying, “He has insulted generations of teachers who have made a difference for countless students. We have successful Tennesseans today because teachers made a difference in their lives.”
Tennessee Education Association Vice President Joe Crabtree represents thousands of teachers in the state and said Arnn’s comments angered many of them.
Crabtree, a teacher at Liberty Bell Middle School and the former president of the Johnson City Education Association, said Lee should not have been silent as Arnn made those comments.
“The governor just sitting there in that chair, and frankly laughing along with the Hillsdale president was an insult,” Crabtree said.
He said teachers train far too much to be called dumb. The job requires at least four years of college education and an extra year as a student teacher.
“We seek master’s degrees in curriculum instruction. We seek specialist degrees in administration so we can become principals,” Crabtree said. “There are a lot of things that go into it that I think the governor doesn’t recognize.”
Today, Gov. Lee responded to questions about his role in the political event.
“It was a conversation about the influence of left-leaning activists in the public education system in this state,” Lee said. “But I fully support our public schools in this state and our teachers as well.”
Lundberg said he believes the governor’s comments today, pointing to his record on education, including pay raises for teachers and the new school funding formula putting more money into public schools.
“Across the board, we have done everything I think possible to support teachers and show them that not only are they valued, but critically important to Tennessee,” Lundberg said.
But that would not cut it for Crabtree, demanding an apology from the governor.
“He needs to step up and he needs to apologize and he needs to make it right,” Crabtree said.
East Tennessee State University officials also stood up for teachers.
Dr. Sharon James McGee, dean of the College of Graduate and Continuing Studies at ETSU, acknowledged Arnn’s comments in a statement this afternoon.
“Public school teachers, counselors, and administrators have demanding jobs. Their work demands a knowledge base that is simultaneously deep and wide. Their work demands rigorous training to complete an undergraduate and/or graduate degree and pass national testing to become licensed,” McGee said. “In addition to being content-area experts, their work demands that they act as caretakers, protectors, and friends to their students. Thank you to all public school teachers, counselors, and administrators and to the higher education faculty who train and mentor them. I stand with you.”
Lundberg said Hillsdale’s charter school plan would be closely examined in the next Tennessee General Assembly legislative session.