NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The sponsor of a proposal that seeks to change the way certain charter schools are authorized said Wednesday the measure is needed to continue education reform in Tennessee.
The legislation sponsored by Republican Sen. Dolores Gresham of Somerville passed the Senate Finance Committee 7-3 and was sent to the full Senate.
The advancing measure is one of at least three versions that have been proposed. The previous version sought to create a state panel to authorize charter schools for five counties where there are failing schools.
Those counties include more than 330,000 students in the state’s four largest cities: Davidson, Hamilton, Knox and Shelby. Hardeman County also would be affected.
Currently, local school boards decide whether to authorize a charter application. There are currently 48 charters operating in Tennessee.
Under the latest proposal, the state Board of Education would be able to overrule local school board decisions on charter applications in the lowest-performing school districts.
The bill also gives an applicant approved by the Board of Education 30 days to return to the school district if the two can reach an agreement.
“It’s a way to get there,” Gresham said. “And we’re going to get there: a world class system of education in Tennessee.”
Members of the committee who at one time opposed the proposal appeared to be comfortable with the latest version. For one, the cost to create the panel was close to $240,000, where the new proposal drops the amount to $199,000.
The advancing proposal also would provide a more detailed hearing process before a decision is made on an application, as well as require some oversight from the state Department of Education.
“While it’s not perfect, I think it’s a good piece of legislation,” said committee vice chairman Bo Watson, R-Chattanooga.
However, Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle didn’t seem too pleased with the measure, saying “this cake is not baked.”
The Memphis Democrat, whose city contains 69 failing schools, was unsuccessful in passing an amendment that sought to place a charter school within two miles of a failing school.
“We want them located where the people are who need them,” he said.
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — As the 108th Tennessee General Assembly draws to a close, state lawmakers are hoping to push through education proposals that include creating a state panel to authorize charter schools for five counties and a measure that would clear the way for cities to begin forming municipal school systems.
The session, which lawmakers are trying to wrap up this month, began with several proposals aimed at continuing education reform in Tennessee. They included Gov. Bill Haslam’s initiative to create a school voucher program and a so-called parent trigger measure that would allow parents to decide the fate of a struggling school.
Both of those proposals have failed.
However, the charter school proposal could be heading to the governor soon for his consideration. The bill is waiting to be scheduled for a vote by the full House, and the Senate Finance Committee is expected to take up a companion bill on Monday.
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.
A House committee voted Tuesday to create a new nine-member board and give it authority to override local school boards statewide in deciding where charter schools can be established.
The bill approved by the House Education Committee (HB702) drew strident criticism from some Democrats. House Democratic Chairman Mike Turner said the new board would be “a death panel for public schools” and Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, called said the vote is “the most extraordinary power grab I’ve ever seen in the Legislature.”
A version of the bill approved earlier in subcommittee would have given override authority on establishing schools to the existing State Board of Education and would have applied only in Shelby and Davidson counteis. The revised measure applies statewide – “so we’re not singling anyone out,” said sponsor Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis – and gives charter approval authority to a new panel.
The new panel would have nine members – three each appointed by the governor, the speaker of the House and the speaker of the Senate. If it approved a charter school over objections of a local school board, the local school system would still have to provide funding to the charter operation.
A bill to create a state charter authorizer has been delayed, reports WPLN, and the sponsor now says he’s listening to critics, who say the legislation unfairly singles out Nashville and Memphis. As written, the bill would give privately run, publicly financed schools a way to open in Tennessee’s two largest urban areas without asking the school board – officially known as the local education authority or LEA.
Rep. Mark White is the sponsor and says he could be on-board with a true statewide charter authorizer if local school boards do the initial vetting.
“If we go back to the LEAs – letting them have first input on this – this will be a statewide application.”
At that point, there would be little difference in a statewide authorizer and the current appeals process. White says he just wants to reinforce that the state has the final say-so. Opponents packed a committee hearing in which the bill was ultimately put off.
Metro school board member Amy Frogge calls it a state power grab. She says opponents like herself will return.
“We’re going to be here for every hearing that comes up, so I don’t think it’s a question of waiting until we’re gone.”
House Speaker Beth Harwell has defended her push to let the state Board of Education – not the local school board – decide on authorizing a charter school in Davidson and Shelby counties. Jeff Woods lays out some of her comments in question and answer format.
An excerpt: Q: The Democrats had a media avail this morning. Mike Turner is upset about your bill. He says you’re trying to resegregate schools in Nashville. What do you say to that? Harwell: That is not my goal at all. If anything, the current charter schools that exist are located in our lower income areas. They are close to about 98 percent minority members. The ones that are doing well are doing exceptionally well. This would have actually made it possible for more diversity within our public charter school system, I believe. … Q: How would the schools be more diverse? You mean more white? Harwell: Yeah.
Q: Republicans say the best government is the one that’s closest to the people. This seems to fly in the face of that. Harwell: No, I don’t think it does. We have a responsibility in this state to allow the most local person to have an option here, and the local person here is the parent. You can’t get much more local than that. I have a lot of parents, not only in my district but others, who wanted this option in our public school system. I am all about promoting and having the best public school system this city can have and right now we’re just simply not there.
A bill allowing charter school applicants to apply directly to the state passed its first hurdle in Nashville Tuesday, potentially setting up a way for Memphis suburbs to have charter schools outside the control of the Unified Shelby County School Board, reports the Commercial Appeal.
The bill would allow charter school operators in Shelby and Davidson counties freedom to apply to the state to approve their charter applications instead of the local school board. The caveat is that if the state denied the application, there would be no appeal.
Under the current protocol, charter applicants that are denied by the school board may appeal the decision to the state Board of Education. The charter schools would report to the state Board of Education, and their test scores would be separate from the local school districts.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mark White, R-Germantown, passed 6-3 in the House Education subcommittee. The bill has no fiscal note; it now goes to the full House for further discussion.
See also The Tennessean and Andrea Zelinski’s report, HERE.
A new coalition of Davidson County parents and stakeholders is gearing up for what it perceives as a fight to both protect local autonomy and defend public schools from outside special-interest groups during the legislative session that commences Tuesday, according to The Tennessean. This army of primarily mothers, calling itself “Standing Together 4 Strong Community Schools,” is focused on defeating what are expected to be two of the most controversial education proposals state lawmakers will consider this year: allowing students to access publicly funded “opportunity scholarships,” more commonly known as vouchers, to attend private schools and a separate measure to hand the state authority to approve charter schools, which would effectively bypass local school boards.
“For so long, special interests have been controlling legislation regarding public schools, and parents essentially have been left out of the mix,” said Jennifer Croslin-Smith, who has helped steer the group’s foundation. “We’re usually the last to find out what’s going on.
“As the direct consumers of this, I feel like we should be the first to hear about this legislation; we should be informed; we are the ones who should be speaking to the legislature.”
The group, which organizers say includes dozens of supporters at this early stage, launched a website last week, strongcommunityschools.com, where supporters plan to list dates and times of committee meetings, organize events and gatherings and discuss the issues at hand.
Members say they don’t plan to register as a political action committee or a lobbying organization, but could opt to apply for 501(c)3 (tax-exempt nonprofit) status in the weeks ahead.
— Note: The group’s website is HERE.