TNDP: State Charter Authorizer Bill ‘Rushed Through Committee’ by GOP

Press release from the Tennessee Democratic Party; April 3, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Republicans who control Nashville rushed through committee a measure to create a state charter school authorizer — a centralized government body that strips school decisions away from local boards.

Charter schools approved by the state charger authorizer would have to be funded by local taxpayers whether there was money available or not. To address the issue of the unfunded mandate, House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley) introduced a measure that would have set in place financial guardrails to protect local taxpayers from a tax increase.

“This bill, without guardrails, is the mother of all unfunded mandates. It will give a state bureaucracy the power to create an unlimited number of charter schools, which will result in massive tax increases or local governments,” said House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh. “I offered a common-sense amendment to help protect taxpayers, but the special interests behind this bill override common-sense.”

HB 702, the state charter authorizer sponsored by Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis) will create a new state bureaucracy to oversee appeals of charter schools administrators denied by local school boards. In the third substantive change to the bill since it was introduced, the new language limits the panel’s authority to school districts which are designated “priority” districts.

During the committee hearing, Leader Fitzhugh noted this would be duplicative and a waste of taxpayer funds. The Achievement School District already has the authority to authorize charters in districts who perform in the bottom 5 percent of the state.

“This is a bad bill that keeps getting worse as the sponsors wheel and deal behind the scenes to pass something — anything — regardless of whether it will improve the performance of students in our district,” said Rep. Mike Stewart (D-Nashville). “I am deeply disappointed that Commissioner Kevin Huffman worked behind the scenes to kill the amendment that would have protected taxpayers in Davidson County and across Tennessee.

“The fact that he refused to even meet with local school board members in Nashville shows his level of contempt for Davidson County taxpayers and elected officials,” Stewart said.

The charter authorizer bill passed out of the House Finance Ways & Means subcommittee on a voice vote and will move on to the full committee next week.