Letter from the Executive Director
You have likely noticed a great deal more activity with charter schools this year. I constantly hear from advocates throughout education reform regarding the growth of charter schools. We have 40 charters in operation, 5 more approved for opening in August of 2012,and two new application cycles upon us. This past Saturday October 1 was the deadline for filing with a very large group having submitted. Details will be coming soon, with applicants in different parts of the state such as Jackson, Tennessee.
While we have seen changes to the charter law around student enrollment and the number of charters allowed, the application process itself has not changed. With as many as 35 applications being submitted (we will have final numbers within a week) we expect that as many as 25 will be denied. While I am always sad when an application is not approved, I am not too sad. Running a charter school is very difficult, and frankly, if you are unable to submit a sound application there is little chance you will be able to run a charter school. Roughly 75% of all applicants are denied. It is a very tough hurdle to overcome, and the hurdle was not lowered.
This past legislative session we did have one addition to the application process thrown in. Let me be very clear, we are not fans of this provision. It allows an LEA to deny an application due to “significant fiscal impact.” Essentially, an LEA can say that allowing the money to follow the student to a charter school harms the district. In fact, we have our first use of this law. HOPE Academy of Blount County in East Tennessee submitted an elementary school application for 180 students. By all accounts ‘in the hallways’ those that denied the application stated it was a very good application. One said it was the best application he’d ever read, but they simply do not want one. Let’s keep in mind the Charter School Act of 2002 was not about what the LEAs wanted, but what parents, teachers, professionals and community leaders wanted. Even as we speak HOPE Academy has been denied due to “significant fiscal impact” and is appealing to the State Treasurer’s office, even though they represent roughly 1.2% of the LEAs budget, serving almost 12,000 students.
Great things are happening in Tennessee, including Nashville being named a finalist host city for the 2015 or 2016 National Charter School Conference. With all the great things happening, now is not the time to rest on our laurels. The 2012 legislative session promises to be a very difficult one with lots of heavy lifting. Stay tuned and get ready to roll up your sleeves to help out!