NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The head of an initiative to turn around Tennessee's lowest performing schools is being criticized for stating that charter schools shouldn't be responsible for diversity.
Chris Barbic, who heads the state's Achievement School District, recently spoke at a forum at Lipscomb University.
He told the Associated Press that diversity is a good goal for any public school but shouldn't be the responsibility of charters, which are privately operated and publicly funded.
Minority and low-income students make up most of the enrollment for Nashville's 20 charter schools. There are a total of 69 charter schools operating in Tennessee.
Critics fear that charter schools will expand into wealthier areas and become mostly white and affluent, effectively resegregating the school system.
Barbic said most schools are the representation of a neighborhood and most neighborhoods are people who live together that look alike.
"That's just the honest reality," he said. "I think that's the case here in Nashville and most communities. And so I think to put that on charters that it's something they've caused or are responsible for is unfair."
Metro school board member Will Pinkston was critical of Barbic, noting on Facebook that for more than 40 years Nashville public schools lived under a federal desegregation lawsuit that was settled in 1998.
"Chris Barbic's careless comments reflect a total lack of understanding of Nashville (and the South) and an utter disregard of the importance of diversity," said Pinkston, the board's budget and finance committee chairman.
Democratic leaders also criticized Barbic, even calling on Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to publicly disavow Barbic's comments.
"Too many people have fought too hard to bring about an integrated, well balanced school system for comments like this to move us toward resegregation," House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh said in a statement.
A spokesman for the governor did not immediately respond to an email from The Associated Press.
Meanwhile, WPLN reports some state lawmakers are proposing legislation to change public school curriculum. One measure in particular seeks to erase current guidelines making sure history textbooks "portray the full range of diversity and achievement of racial and ethnic minorities."
Instead, the proposal requires more emphasis on the "success of the United States as a leader in the age of industry, with emphasis on the political and cultural elements that distinguished America in this era from other nations, past and contemporary."