Bill letting parents block state school takeovers fails

A proposal to let parents block state takeovers of their schools failed in a House subcommittee Tuesday after an outpouring of vocal opposition from Memphis parents and students, reports WPLN.

The proposal would have given parents the power to keep their schools from being added to the state’s Achievement School District. But to do so, they would have needed signatures from the parents of 60 percent of the students, and they would have needed to work with the state Department of Education on a plan for improvement.

The idea, House Bill 858, grew out of the dispute over Nashville’s Neely’s Bend Middle. A little over a year ago, the ASD announced a charter school operator, LEAD Academy, would take it over.

Many parents and local officials objected, saying they already had a turnaround plan. And the school did post dramatic gains. The takeover went ahead anyway.

But there were few parents from Neely’s Bend at Tuesday’s hearing on the proposal. Instead, dozens of parents from Memphis were at the meeting of the House Education Administration & Planning Subcommittee, defending the ASD.

Memphis is where most of the takeovers have occurred. And they spoke as if the very existence of the ASD was at stake.

“We are here today because I want more options,” said Keith Williams, with the Tennessee Black Alliance for Educational Options. He said his daughter struggled to score high enough on the ACT to go college, despite graduating near the top of her class in a failing Memphis school.

“I’m going to fight for more options because you will not tell another parent that it’s their fault. We demand more options.”

But giving parents more options was exactly the point, said the proposal’s sponsor, state Rep. Bill Beck, D-Nashville. He seemed flummoxed by the opposition.

“I do not understand. We’re not trying to cut out choice. I’m not trying to kill the ASD. I’m saying to take the schools that need to be taken.”

For programs like the ASD to work, said Beck, they need to focus on the schools most in need of help, not ones on the right path already.

Beck’s argument fell on deaf ears.