Despite one board member’s push to dig in and fight, the Metro school board on Tuesday backed off its threat to sue the state for withholding $3.4 million in funds to punish the district for rejecting a charter school application, reports The Tennessean. Board members expressed hope that the state might willingly restore the funds if the district takes a more cooperative approach instead. The school board voted 8-1 on Tuesday to defeat a motion from board member Amy Frogge to pursue litigation against the Tennessee Department of Education over the financial reprimand that followed the Metro board’s repeated rejection of Great Hearts Academies’ charter school proposal this summer.
Citing a looming Dec. 16 deadline to file for injunctive relief, Frogge, a Great Hearts critic, said the board’s “backs are against the wall.” She added: “I’m all for compromise, too, but I just feel like we’re in the position now where we have to give everything.”
Her eight colleagues, however, concluded that while the lost funds hurt, it wasn’t worth waging a legal fight. The sentiments reflected the recommendation of Director of Schools Jesse Register, who called a lawsuit “counterproductive.”
House Speaker Beth Harwell tells The City Paper that the Metro school board’s high-profile Great Hearts Academies denial is motivating lawmakers to approve a plan that would allow parents to send their children to private schools on taxpayers’ dime. Parents want options, “and we didn’t give them that. And consequently, where do they go next but to vouchers,” Harwell told The City Paper
“If the Metropolitan school board is concerned about vouchers, then they should have been more conscientious in helping us bring in an outstanding public charter school to this state,” she said.
Vouchers are otherwise known as “opportunity scholarships” and allow students to use taxpayer dollars to pay their way at private schools, including parochial schools. The idea is controversial because it would siphon money from the public school system.
Harwell said she prefers having “great charter schools across the state” than resorting to a voucher program but said she’ll reserve judgement until she sees specific details of a proposal.
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.
Long before he became Tennessee’s education commissioner, Kevin Huffman penned an article on charter schools that a reader points out as interesting in light of his recent decision to withhold $3.4 million from Nashville’s schools because the local school board rejected a Great Hearts Academy application.
A key reason for the Metro Nashville board’s rejection of Great Hearts application was concern that it would be lacking in diversity. Huffman’s 1998 article for the October, 1998, New York University Law Review focuses on the possibility of litigation over school choice legislation.
In doing so, Huffman observes that a charter school can be designed to effectively exclude enrollment of poor students, either by location, which without provisions for transportation restricts availability to those in the neighborhood, or by limiting dissemination of information on the schools to the children of “quick-acting, better-informed parents… leaving children of poor and ill-informed parents behind, consigned to suffering the deterioration of neighborhood schools.”
“In such a scenario, the children of informed and quick-acting parents have a choice while those “out of the loop” have no choice at all,” he writes.
Here’s the article’s “conclusion” section:
Charter schools will play a prominent role in public education during the coming decade. They suit the political agendas of many and hold great promise for developing innovative approaches to public education. Charter schools have the potential to reinvigorate the public schools in districts that desperately need a boost. However, as states quickly move forward with charter school legislation, they risk establishing a process that merely provides further opportunities for well-informed families while ghettoizing the poor and uninformed.
The movement toward deregulation allows schools to exclude the neediest students, either through explicit policies or simply through lack of adequate information. .Ultimately, plaintiffs will have a difficult time showing that charter schools or state enabling acts violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment….However, state constitutions and successful school finance litigation in state courts indicate that state challenges to charter school legislation have a higher chance of success.
Most significantly, several policy changes would allow states to mandate a strong, autonomous charter school movement without depriving access to the schools. Greater state oversight of admissions policies and dissemination of information would close potential avenues of litigation while maintaining the legitimacy of charter schools.
These changes would add some costs to charter school legislation, but they would ultimately allow charter schools to reach greater numbers of at-risk students.
It would be a terrible waste of resources if charter schools were consistently tied up in litigation. It would be an even greater waste, though, if the charter school movement failed to reach the neediest public school students.
Meanwhile, Joey Garrison has written a detailed analysis of people and politics involved in the Great Hearts flap.
By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam acknowledged Wednesday that a $3.4 million fine on Nashville’s public school system will affect students, but insisted that the fault lies with school board members who refused to approve a charter school.
The state Education Department has characterized the withheld funding as targeting administrative functions of the school system, not classroom instruction. But the school system has responded that the money goes to a variety of operations ranging from transportation to maintenance — each of which have an effect on students.
The governor didn’t argue with those claims when he met with reporters after a groundbreaking ceremony for an expansion of a Bank of New York Mellon Corp. processing center in Nashville.
“Obviously everything in a school system is ultimately for the benefit of a child, every administrative assistant in the central building, etc.,” he said. “So ultimately that’s right. And that’s why Metro’s decision to do that was harmful.”
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The state Department of Education announced Tuesday it will withhold $3.4 million from the public school system in Nashville over a rejected charter school application.
The Metro Nashville school board last week defied an order by the state Board of Education to approve the school proposed by Phoenix-based Great Hearts Academies. The fine is the equivalent of one month worth of the school district’s administrative costs, or about 1.4 percent of the $236 million the city’s school system receives annually under the state funding formula.
“This was not a decision that anybody in the state takes any pleasure in, but we also think that we are a state of laws,” Republican Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters.
“We can’t just stand back,” he said.
Republicans who laud government that stays close to the people are finding themselves in a pickle now that a local school board has bucked state law, according to TNReport. Metro Nashville Public Schools’ Board of Education ignored orders by the Tennessee Board of Education to usher the charter school Great Hearts Academies into the district last week — the second such rebuff in a month. The Metro schools board contends that the first of five schools, run by a Phoenix-based charter school operator, would lack diversity and pander to an affluent Nashville neighborhood.
The Great Hearts dispute has exposed Republican leaders to criticism that they espouse local control only when it suits their aims.
“This whole thing just flies in the face of Republican philosophy when you have the big bad state coming down telling the local school board they have to comply with the law,” said Jerry Winters, a lobbyist with the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, which has been resistant to the emergence of school choice.
Charter schools have enjoyed favorable treatment at the hands of GOP Gov. Bill Haslam and his education department. The administration’s agenda for reform has included tougher standards for teacher tenure, tying teacher evaluations to test scores and an expansion of charter schools.
Metro schools’ refusal to grant Great Hearts permission to open a school has sparked statewide debate over whether local approval is best. Great Hearts announced that it would not challenge the Metro schools’ decision.
“It’s really been kind of shocking to watch a government openly acknowledge and violate the law,” said Matt Throckmorton, executive director of the Tennessee Charter Schools Association.
Disgusted by the ongoing feud, Throckmorton and other charter school advocates are pushing for the state to assemble an outside agency to review and approve charter school applications, allowing charter operators to leap-frog over the local school district.
…Republican legislative leaders who have repeatedly offered messages about the importance of local control hint that they’d be open to a plan giving the state more power.
“I am extremely dismayed that the Nashville School Board is focused on limiting parental choice and educational opportunity for children,” Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey told TNReport in an email. “It is unfortunate that the board seems mired in the old education politics while the rest of the state is moving forward.”
House Speaker Beth Harwell agreed, calling the decision by MNPS “simply a mistake for our children” and saying the Legislature “will revisit this issue” when they come back in January.
“We believe in local government and local school boards. But when they don’t give opportunities for our children, then that’s a problem,” she said.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — An Arizona-based charter school company says it won’t try to place schools in Tennessee until the state creates a more impartial charter school approval process.
The statement came from Great Hearts Academies on Wednesday after the Metro Nashville school board denied the company’s application for a third time.
School board members said they were concerned that a Great Hearts Academy would draw from affluent white families, rather than bringing in students from other parts of the city to create a more diverse student body.
Great Hearts said it might reapply “when Tennessee’s laws and charter approval process more effectively provide for open enrollment, broad service to the community and impartial authorizers,” according to The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/Q4UANe).