By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A proposal that would create a special panel to authorize charter schools in several Tennessee counties passed a key legislative committee on Wednesday and is headed for a full House vote after the bill was amended to provide oversight of the entity.
The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Mark White of Memphis was approved on a voice vote in the House Finance Committee and will now be scheduled for a vote on the House floor.
The panel would oversee five of the state’s lowest-performing counties: Davidson, Hamilton, Hardeman, Knox and Shelby.
Charter schools are public schools that are funded with state and local tax dollars. But they don’t have to meet some of the state regulations that traditional public schools do as they try to find different ways to improve student learning.
Currently, local school boards decide whether to authorize a charter application. There are 48 charter schools in Tennessee.
Under the proposal, applicants rejected in the five counties could appeal to the nine-member panel that would be appointed by the governor and speakers of the House and Senate.
The Senate version of the bill was delayed in the Senate Finance Committee earlier this week after members expressed concern that the panel wouldn’t have any oversight. The proposal advancing in the House would make the panel a part of the state Department of Education administratively, but its activities would be independent.
The amended bill also gives an applicant approved by the panel 30 days to return to the school district if the two can reach an agreement.
“It gives the two parties a chance to come back together, work together down the road,” White said.
Some members of the Senate and House finance committees also expressed concern over the nearly $240,000 price tag to create the panel. Of that, a little more than $100,000 would be used to pay the panel’s executive director.
“At the end of the day, I hope we ask ourselves have we done the right thing in terms of the fiscal impact,” said Democratic Rep. Gary Odom of Nashville.