Hillsdale College in southern Michigan, which is well known for its conservative influence is reaching out to the charter school arena with plans to add to its network of classical public charter schools in its fight against "leftist academics" influencing younger children.
The Hillsdale network now has 24 schools in 13 states and hopes to expand even further, but its push is sparking concerns from critics who say it uses taxpayer money to educate students through a political-leaning agenda, reports The New York Times.
Over the years since its founding in 1844 by abolitionists, the school has grown to attract conservative attention, with many of its graduates becoming politically active. Republicans such as former Vice President Mike Pence and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have spoken there and Ginni Thomas, the conservative activist and the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas once led the school's Washington program.
Justice Thomas himself delivered the 2016 commencement address at Hillsdale, calling it a shining city on a hill for being devoted to liberty as an antecedent of government, not a benefit from government."
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, has recently invited Hillsdale to start 50 of the charter schools in his state through the use of public funds that includes $32 million that the state set aside for charter schools.
Lee said he sees the expansion as an effort to expand "informed patriotism" in the state, and told lawmakers that he believes Hillsdale College's efforts are a "good fit for Tennessee."
Critics, however, say such plans allow states to use public money for political-leaning schools.
"I’ve been following charter schools over the last 25 years, and I’ve never seen a governor attempting to use charters in such an overtly political way," Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, commented.
Hillsdale currently sponsors 22 member charter schools that get a full suite of its curriculum and training. Two other public schools are regarded as affiliates using the Hillsdale curriculum, with eight more ready to open, including one in Tennessee.
Applications have been filed for more of the charter schools, which include three of the 50 additional schools Hillsdale says it will open in Tennessee. Part of Hillsdale's offerings includes the "1776 Curriculum" which paints the United States as an "exceptionally good country."
The curriculum has been criticized by historians and educators for glossing over some parts of American history while putting an ideological spin on some topics such as affirmative action.
Hillsdale College itself does not accept state or federal funding, including for student grants or loans, but instead relies partly on donations, which often come from conservatives including the late Rush Limbaugh, who ran a fundraising campaign on his radio program.
The college recently asked for donations of $17.76 to help fight back against academics who teach a "biased and distorted" version of American history, citing The New York Times' 1619 project.
Larry Arnn, Hillsdale's president, and his daughter, Kathleen O'Toole, who operates the college's charter school program, declined The Times' request for interviews.
Sandy Fitzgerald ✉
Sandy Fitzgerald has more than three decades in journalism and serves as a general assignment writer for Newsmax covering news, media, and politics.
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