Tennessee charter school "authorizer" bill struggling in Senate committee

Tennessee charter school "authorizer" bill struggling in Senate committee

April 16th, 2013 by Andy Sher in Local - Breaking News

The Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

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.