published Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

Tennessee charter school “authorizer” bill struggling in Senate committee

NASHVILLE — A bill creating a statewide charter school “authorizer” for Hamilton County and four other school systems is struggling in Tennessee’s Senate Finance Committee.

The bill was postponed earlier today yet again after Senate Finance Chairman Bo Watson, R-Hixson, questioned why the bill applies solely to the five counties and not statewide.

“I’m trying to figure out what problems we’re solving with this legislation,” Watson told the sponsor, Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville. “In my view you’re taking away some level of local control to fix a problem that may be very isolated and a variation in the normal process of approving charter schools.”

She wound up delaying the bill for at least the second time to address the additional questions.

The panel could overrule local school board decisions on charter applications in any school system that has at least one school falling into the state’s bottom five percent of low-performing schools. But charter operators could open up anywhere in the district and not necessarily deal with the low-performing students.

Only five districts would be affected, at least for now. Four are the state’s largest schools systems in Hamilton, Davidson, Knox and Shelby counties. Tiny Hardeman County also would be affected.

But other systems could be affected in future years under the five percent rule.

Charter schools are privately operated public schools using state and local tax dollars. The schools don’t have to meet some state regulations that traditional public schools do.

House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, is pushing the legislation after the Metro Nashville School Board turned down an application from Arizona-based Great Hearts Academies. Board members said the group’s plans to open several charter schools amounted to a raid on the system, contending they were seeking to “cherry-pick” higher income, well-performing students instead of poorer students from failing schools.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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