NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Gov. Bill Lee responded Wednesday to the firestorm of criticism unleashed by video uncovered by NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
The secretly-recorded video showed Gov. Lee sitting silently while one of his education advisers mocked public school teachers and questioned their intelligence.
People from both parties have blasted the governor.
“Tennessee teachers do an excellent job for the students of this state," Lt. Gov. Randy McNally said Wednesday. "Teaching is a calling. Those called to teach deserve our appreciation and respect. The president of Hillsdale has no role in shaping education policy in Tennessee, nor should he. Arnn’s comments were ill-conceived, unfortunate and untrue. His organization is eligible to apply to operate charter schools in Tennessee, just like any other operator. When and if they apply, they will be subject to the same process as anyone else and these comments will feature prominently in the vetting process."
But in a news conference on Wednesday, he once again refused to distance himself from the controversial comments.
"We have a deep commitment to the public education system in this state," Lee said.
He showered praise on Tennessee teachers but refused to criticize comments made by Dr. Larry Arnn, who is president of the conservative Hillsdale College in Michigan.
Arnn made the comments two weeks ago during an invitation-only event.
"The teachers are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country, and they are taught that they are going to do something to those kids," Arnn said at the event.
Many in the audience laughed as Arnn mocked teachers who have education degrees.
"If you work in a college, you'll know this — unless you work in the ed department. Ours is different. But they are the dumbest part of every college," Arnn said.
Reporters repeatedly asked if Lee would disavow Arnn's remarks.
Having parents and grandparents as teachers, I know firsthand the dedication, the passion, and the abilities needed in the classroom. I will never agree with or support Mr. Arnn’s comments.— Speaker Cameron Sexton (@CSexton25) July 6, 2022
"I disagree with ... activism from the left. But I fully support our public schools in this state and our teachers as well," Lee said. "It wasn't about Tennessee teachers or Tennessee schools as much as it was about activism in education and this country."
On the video, Gov. Lee sat silently across from Arnn as he made statements that fellow republican lawmakers have said were out of line.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Do you regret remaining silent? Should you have said something when he said those things?"
Lee responded, "I've been very clear about how I feel about public schools and our teachers, and I will continue to be clear about that."
Earlier this year, Lee announced a partnership with Hillsdale College to use taxpayer dollars to set up 50 privately-run charter schools across the state.
Larry Arnn said at the event last week, "Here's a key thing we're going to try to do. We are going to try to demonstrate that you don't have to be an expert to educate a child because anybody can do it."
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Lee, "Is this the type of group you want teaching Tennessee children?"
Lee responded, "You know my comments about teachers and about the future of public education have been very clear. Other people's comments are for others to interpret."
SPECIAL SECTION: Revealed
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