published Friday, September 23rd, 2011

No new charter schools in Hamilton County this year

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The only group that wants to open a new charter school in Chattanooga under the state's recently created Achievement School District won't make it past the application process.

But state leaders say Hamilton County still could receive a new charter school by next school year.

Created in 2010, Tennessee's Achievement School District is made up of five of the state's lowest-performing schools -- a list that includes Howard School of Academics and Technology in Chattanooga and four Memphis schools. New legislation allows the ASD to co-manage its schools, turn them into charter s or take them over completely.

Nine groups applied to open ASD charter schools in Tennessee next year. Unlike traditional charters, an ASD charter doesn't need approval from the local school board to open.

The only group immediately interested in Chattanooga, Mosaica Turnaround Partners, applied to open either a Nashville, Memphis or Chattanooga charter school. Although the company will go through the complete application process, the for-profit company won't qualify because Tennessee law allows only nonprofit charters, said Margo Roen, ASD's charter school portfolio director.

Roen said there's some will in the Legislature to change the state law, though such a move won't happen by the time ASD approves schools for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years. This spring, ASD will start approving schools for 2013 openings.

"For at least the first two rounds of charter schools, no for-profit can qualify," she said.

Applications received last week for the first round came from groups hoping to open new schools in the fall. Because of the quick turnaround, Roen said more applicants came from Tennessee-based organizations than national ones. She expects more applications from local and national groups for the 2013-14 school year.

There's also a chance that ASD officials could place a charter school in Chattanooga, even if the application didn't specify an interest here, Roen said.

"It's still possible, although unlikely," she said. "I wouldn't rule it out entirely."

ASD Superintendent Chris Barbic said the nine applicants will go through a rigorous interview and vetting process before any approvals are announced in November.

Because Howard is the only Chattanooga school in the ASD, Barbic said a charter starting up here could open inside Howard's walls or could pull the school's students to another location.

"If this were to happen, they would compete with Howard," he said.

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about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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