NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis) heads the education committee in Tennessee’s state house. It’s a role that’s had to deal with some controversy over the past week with the Hillsdale-affiliated American Classical Education going through three appeals hearings with the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission.
News 2 asked White if he thinks American Classical Education should be granted a charter in Tennessee.
“I’m not going to really answer that because I don’t know the background of a lot of their application process at this time,” he said. “If it’s a high-quality charter that’s good for the students of Tennessee, then I would welcome any charter into the state.”
Hillsdale has been a controversial subject over the last couple of months since President Larry Arnn made an offensive comment about Tennessee teachers in July. After it was made public, White said on Facebook, ‘When the General Assembly convenes again next January any hope that Hillsdale will operate in Tennessee has been shattered.’
Monday, he walked that comment back a bit.
“My comment wasn’t so much against Hillsdale or anything, my comment was if you go into committee, an education committee, and you bring up legislation where the name is attached because of what was said, it would make it very difficult for that piece of legislation to move forward,” White said.
Though Arnn’s comments drew swift backlash, it might not make a difference if the state charter commission board sides with American Classical. Gov. Bill Lee (R-Tennessee) appoints each member of the nine-person board.
The thought of the board potentially accepting each appeal worries the Tennessee Education Association.
“If they approve any of these, they don’t have any regard for any of our local school boards,” TEA president Tanya Coats said.
She’s referring to the fact that three local school boards denied American Classical’s applications, but, as of the last two years, the state charter board has the power to overturn those decisions.
It’s a frustrating notion for the TEA, especially given Arnn’s comments.
“We know that who appoints those boards is the Governor,” Coats said. “So, he’s agreeing with Larry Arnn, the atrocious comments that he made about Tennesseans.”
The topic is a divisive one. But, White made his thoughts on the board known when News 2 spoke with him.
“I have great confidence in the charter commission, the staff that’s over that is doing a great job. They are dedicated to the metrics and the rubrics of a high-quality charter,” he said. “I also have a lot of confidence in the nine commission members, I know all of them.”
The board will vote on the appeals on Oct. 5 at a special-called meeting in Nashville.