NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — House Democrats are voicing their opposition to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration’s decision to withhold $3.4 million in state funding from Nashville because of a disputed charter school application.
The lawmakers at a news conference outside the legislative office complex in Nashville on Tuesday afternoon argued that Haslam’s decision was unfair to students at city schools.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner said the withheld funding could be subject to a legal challenge, while fellow Nashville Democrat Mike Stewart said lawmakers didn’t envision the state holding the power to demand the approval of applications when they passed a law allowing more charter schools in Tennessee last year.
Opponents of the Great Hearts Academy charter school said its proposal lacked a plan for promoting diversity.
Note: The news release is below.
News release from House Democratic Caucus:
NASHVILLE – State Democratic leaders criticized Gov. Bill Haslam for taking $3.4 million in taxpayer money away from Metro Nashville schools over the school board’s refusal to approve Great Hearts Academies.
Members of the Davidson County legislative delegation, along with District 20 state Senate candidate Phillip North, spoke to reporters about the issue at a press conference Tuesday.
“We disagree with Gov. Haslam’s administration on taking Davidson County taxpayers’ dollars and sending them to other school districts when that money is needed right here,” said State Rep. Brenda Gilmore, chairwoman of the Davidson County delegation.
North said that local school boards should have the right to evaluate a charter school’s application on its merits, and he said that that’s what happened in the case of Great Hearts.
“The merits of the application of a charter school company should be left to the local, elected school board,” North said. “I continue to have confidence in our elected school board, teachers and school administrators.”
Others said it might be time to clarify state law on charter schools. The law currently gives charter schools the right to appeal a school board’s decision, but does not explicitly give the state sole authority to approve a charter school’s application.
“If that’s what legislators had intended, we would have set up an independent authorizer,” Rep. Mike Stewart said.
“We have Democrats on both sides of the charter school issue,” Caucus Chairman Rep. Mike Turner said. “But we all agree that it’s wrong to penalize Metro when they’ve made a judicious decision.”