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Education Featured

Bypassing Locals on Charters Looking More Likely: Harwell

If the Tennessee legislature approves a statewide authorizer for charter schools, House Speaker Beth Harwell said that charter students’ test scores — and the per-student money to educate those children — would flow away from local school districts into the state system.

“Those children’s test scores would come out from the local school system and be counted in the state system — not the local,” Harwell told TNReport in an interview at her office Thursday. “In addition, the money would (follow the students) as well.”

As it stands now, charter school students’ scores are counted with the government-run district schools. And although public money follows the student even if he attends a charter school, it is common for the government-run public school to take a slice of that money for administrative overhead.

A statewide authorizer for charter schools may change that scenario, based on Harwell’s comments.

Momentum appears to be building for the legislature to create such an authorizer, which would serve as a place where the non-profit charters could go to get approval to start teaching.

Triggering this momentum was the Metro Nashville schools’ decision last month to ignore state orders to usher the charter school Great Hearts Academies into the district. The board of the Metro Nashville Public Schools contends that the first of five proposed schools, run by a Phoenix-based charter school operator, would lack diversity and pander to an affluent Nashville neighborhood.

Officials for Great Hearts have told TNReport that, despite the denials, they are in Nashville for the long haul and are still hoping they can open five schools in the metro area.

Harwell indicated that there may be a scenario in which local school boards retain control over authorizing charter schools.

“We want to work with our local school boards,” Harwell said. “We are willing to do that and want to do that, but not at the detriment of our children.”

Trent Seibert can be reached trent@TNReport.com, at Twitter at @trentseibert or at 615-669-9501.

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Press Releases

Davidson Co. Dems Criticize Haslam Decision to Fine MNPS

Press release from the Tennessee House Democrat Caucus; September 25, 2012: 

NASHVILLE – State Democratic leaders criticized Gov. Bill Haslam for taking $3.4 million in taxpayer money away from Metro Nashville schools over the school board’s refusal to approve Great Hearts Academies.

Members of the Davidson County legislative delegation, along with District 20 state Senate candidate Phillip North, spoke to reporters about the issue at a press conference Tuesday.

“We disagree with Gov. Haslam’s administration on taking Davidson County taxpayers’ dollars and sending them to other school districts when that money is needed right here,” said State Rep. Brenda Gilmore, chairwoman of the Davidson County delegation.

North said that local school boards should have the right to evaluate a charter school’s application on its merits, and he said that that’s what happened in the case of Great Hearts.

“The merits of the application of a charter school company should be left to the local, elected school board,” North said. “I continue to have confidence in our elected school board, teachers and school administrators.”

Others said it might be time to clarify state law on charter schools. The law currently gives charter schools the right to appeal a school board’s decision, but does not explicitly give the state sole authority to approve a charter school’s application.

“If that’s what legislators had intended, we would have set up an independent authorizer,” Rep. Mike Stewart said.

“We have Democrats on both sides of the charter school issue,” Caucus Chairman Rep. Mike Turner said. “But we all agree that it’s wrong to penalize Metro when they’ve made a judicious decision.”

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Press Releases

State BOE Urges MNPS Board to Stop ‘Posturing’ On Charter Application

Statement from the Tennessee State Board of Education; August 15, 2012: 

NASHVILLE, August 15 — The State Board of Education is disappointed by the recent action regarding the indefinite deferral of the approval of the Great Hearts Charter School application. Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) had an opportunity to quickly bring closure to the process by approving the application as directed by the State Board of Education. The State Board of Education urges the MNPS Board to take the actions necessary to comply with the requirements of state law. Needless delays, the unnecessary expenditure of MNPS resources, and posturing relative to this charter school approval do not benefit the students of Nashville.

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Press Releases

Huffman: MNPS Board of Ed ‘In Violation of State Law’

Statement from the Tennessee Department of Education; August 15, 2012 

In response to Tuesday night’s Metro Nashville Public Schools’ Board of Education meeting, Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman released the following statement:

“The Metro Nashville Public Schools Board of Education is now operating in violation of state law. We will take appropriate action to ensure that the law is followed.”