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Higher Graduation Rates High on Casada’s Priorty List

Tuesday’s statehouse general election results assure that GOP-driven education reform will remain a primary topic of policy discussion in the 2013 Legislature, said a key House Republican leader.

“We’ve got to address education,” said Rep. Glen Casada, who currently chairs the House Health and Human Resources Committee and is a likely successor to the role of GOP caucus chair for Debra Young Maggart of Henderson, who in August was ousted in the Republican primary.

“We’re near the bottom, and we have been near the bottom for years. Now the mantle of leadership is on the Republicans we have to get us out of that negative trend,” said Casada.

Casada, a conservative Republican from Franklin, told TNReport he wants to see a 90 percent graduation rate from Tennessee high schools.

Although it’s been climbing over the past decade, Tennessee’s graduation rate stands at 77.4 percent.

Education is bound to be a front-and-center issue at the legislature in the session that begins in January.

Indeed, how best to educate students has been a constant subject of debate for years now, culminating recently in a feud between Metro Nashville Public Schools officials and state leaders.

One issue almost sure to arise in 2013: The possible creation of a statewide agency to authorize charter schools, taking away that power from local school boards.

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

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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.