Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee just can't help himself — he keeps adding insult to injury for teachers and public schools in our state.
He gave us all a two-fer of "dumbest of the dumb" in Lee/education stories last week.
One was headlined "Lee wastes no time rolling out voucher program" and putting back on track his plan to allow public school money to be spent on private school tuition. This came less than a week after judges allowed the state to resume work on its long-stalled private school voucher program he termed an "education savings account program."
The second stunner was a report about the governor further contorting himself over his previous praise of the Hillsdale College curriculum and charter schools. This time, he declined to weigh in on whether charter schools connected to Hillsdale College should appeal to the state's charter commission after two local school boards rejected Hillsdale applications in recent days.
You will recall that Lee in January announced he was earmarking tens of millions in state education money to contract with the Christian-influenced Hillsdale to open 50 new charter schools across the state and include Hillsdale's "informed patriotism" civics curriculum in all state K-12 schools.
Then Hillsdale president, Larry Arnn, in a reception with Lee near Nashville, held forth for two hours spewing insults at our teachers and teaching colleges, saying teachers are trained "in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country." Lee sat by without refuting him in any way.
This was all captured on a hidden camera and later shared on TV, online and with lawmakers. The din of outrage is still roiling, and Lee still hasn't repudiated either Arnn or Hillsdale.
As for the voucher program, Lee's push of Tennessee's education savings account program has been a lightning rod from the start, passing the state's heavily Republican House of Representatives in 2019 with a razor-thin vote.
Making our state a battleground in a national fight between those who want to use taxpayer money to give parents more education choices and others who say such programs divert money from already underfunded public schools, the plan has been tied up in court for two years.
Now Lee seems determined to quickly enroll as many students as possible — up to the 5,000 allowed in the first year — on a shoestring of time.
Perhaps Lee, who is up for re-election on Nov. 8, sees another race on the clock, as well: Voucher opponents behind the two lawsuits that held the plan back before now are expected to seek still another court order and block the program for a second time while they challenge the law's constitutionality on several remaining claims.
Lee is a guy who clearly doesn't think he's ever wrong, and if someone else does, well, he just digs in.
He told reporters his administration will take matters one at a time: "We're just working on the high-quality implementation of the plan right now."
And while he stayed mum on school boards rejecting Hillsdale charter applications, he told reporters he'd spoken to Arnn "maybe five times in the past two years.
Well, why then, governor, with so little contact, would you have been willing to sink so much of our money into schools influenced by the man — the very man who wrote the Hillsdale curriculum and who you invited to start not just 50, but 100 charter schools in Tennessee?
Lee had the gall to tell reporters the Hillsdale partnership he mentioned in such glowing terms in his January State of the State address was not necessarily his "vision" for Tennessee education.
"We have the best and brightest teachers in the country. We have the opportunity to have the best public school system in the country," Lee said. "That's my vision."
No, governor. We'll not have the best school system in the country if you persist in trying to swoosh public money out of it to line the coffers first of private schools and then of public charter schools run privately with politically-tinged curriculum.