by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
After a smear campaign ensnared efforts to bring three new no-politics, high-achievement public schools to Tennessee in September, the families denied yet another year of the education they seek for their children aren’t retreating. They’ve just filed notices they wish to open five classical charter schools in Tennessee that use curricula designed by Hillsdale College.
“All of the schools are overcrowded, the county schools can’t build out fast enough,” noted Michelle Garcia, a Rutherford County mother of two who serves on the nonprofit board attempting to open the schools, American Classical Education (ACE). “Between that and the learning loss of Covid, having this public classical charter option is very attractive.”
Garcia said that not only did school lockdowns and subsequent rolling quarantines of healthy children deeply damage Tennessee parents’ confidence in conventional schools, but many local parents also want the high-quality curriculum and pursuit of virtue championed in classical schools.
An October poll found 56 percent of Tennesseans would not send their child to their ZIP code-assigned public school if they felt they could afford another one. Fifty-nine percent of the heavily Democrat-leaning poll respondents in the overwhelmingly Republican state agreed Tennessee should offer more public school options.
“The culture has changed so much in school with Covid, we really need something else to come in educationally and shake things up a little bit,” said Rutherford County mother of three Mandy Massey in a phone interview. Massey hopes for the opportunity to enroll her daughters in a classical school should the government allow one to open in her area.
Currently, 22 K-12 schools in 11 states use Hillsdale’s staff training and curricula, and another 50 use its curricula alone. Although test scores offer only a limited picture of school quality, and all Hillsdale-affiliated schools did not have 2021-22 testing data, the most recent available show them outperforming state averages.