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Charter ‘Authorizer’ Passes Senate Committee With Little Fanfare

Conspicuous lack of contention in comparison to House’s hearings

A push to create a state-appointed panel to hear appeals when local districts reject charter school applications took another step forward in the Tennessee Legislature Wednesday.

The Senate Education Committee quietly approved SB830, sponsored by Republican committee chair Sen. Dolores Gresham of Somerville, in a bipartisan 8-0 vote.

The unanimous tally and lack of commotion during Wednesday’s meeting was a departure from the contentious debate surrounding the issue in recent weeks.

During a March 5 hearing on the House version of the bill, which would give the unelected panel final say on approving new charter schools, representatives of some school districts showed staunch opposition, arguing that local education agencies would be stripped of their authority and be forced to pay for state-approved schools. Amy Frogge with Metro Nashville Public Schools went so far as to call the law an “unfunded mandate” and “taxation without representation.”

But during the Senate committee meeting Wednesday, the testimony was much less charged.

Lee Harrell with the Tennessee School Board Association told committee members that his group would ideally like the final decision on charter schools to stay local. The TSBA is “still trying to get some questions answered and still have concerns,” but Harrell compared the current bill favorably to earlier version.

Supporters of the legislation, have maintained that it would attract more high-quality charter operators to the state by removing politics from the equation.

Senate Bill 830 is going now to the Finance Committee. Its counterpart in the House, HB702, is set for discussion next week in the House Finance, Ways & Means Subcommittee.

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