Capitol Hill targets Nashville, Memphis with charter authorizer bill

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 1:59pm
Updated: 9:15 p.m.

Lawmakers have put a clear target on the Metro Nashville Public Schools system in a bill that would allow groups looking to open charter schools to apply straight to the state Board of Education.

Under the proposal, the option to circumvent the local school board would only be available in Nashville and Memphis. The legislative language, which was released late Monday before a Tuesday meeting, won its first victory in the House Education subcommittee today before a standing room only crowd.

The legislation singles out counties with a population of at least 600,000, subtracting all other towns and cities besides Nashville and Memphis. With 635,000 people in Davidson County and 935,000 people in Shelby County, the two school districts clearly qualify. Other big counties like Knox and Hamilton fall shot on the population benchmark by more than 150,000 people.

The measure also stipulates that charters can use the Board of Education as an authorizer only after the local school district has twice been asked by the BOE to reverse decisions to reject applications. Both Memphis and the MNPS school system have been asked to reverse multiple charter applications.

Amy Frogge, an MNPS board member, told committee members the proposal will create something of a “shotgun wedding” for districts and charter schools that take the alternative chartering route. She urged the group to delay a vote to hear more stakeholders, including Director of Schools Jesse Register.

Lawmakers instead pushed to act on the legislation, voting 6-3 to approve the bill with bipartisan support and sending it to the full Education Committee. The opposition was also bipartisan as Rep. John Forgety, R-Athens, voted against the legislation because it was “a problem looking for a solution.”

Last year, MNPS repeatedly rejected a charter school application, and was told by the Board of Education to reverse its decision. When the school board refused, the Department of Education fined MNPS $3.4 million.

Board members continued to criticize the legislation at its school board meeting Tuesday night, and called for a speedy assessment of their legal options to fight the proposal should it become law.

Members expressed concern not only because the legislation is focused on Davidson and Shelby County, but because the move would take decisions away from locally-elected school boards and charter schools winning approval from a new statewide authorizer would be funded with local tax dollars siphoned from the school district.

Board member Michael Hayes said he generally favors the idea of a statewide authorizer, but that he too was disappointed with the legislation. He said his problem is the measure lacks a method for keeping the outside authorizer accountable.

“All of that language is missing from this four page document,” he said.

While charter school advocates have pushed for a statewide body to OK charter applications for years, the flare up in MNPS frustrated lawmakers who saw the action by local officials as snubbing state law which lent momentum to the effort.

MNPS school board members suggest the legislation’s attempt to single out select school districts will backfire given an ongoing legal battle in Shelby County over 2012 legislation that targeted the county in the process of a school district merger.

"Given the context of the recent federal court decision in Shelby County, it's surprising that a Memphis legislator would bring this kind of constitutionally suspect legislation,” said board member Will Pinkston, a former top aide to former Gov. Phil Bredesen. “I'm guessing there are any number of organizations — school boards, parent groups, civil rights groups — that might be ready and waiting to litigate over this one."

The Board of Education is opposed to establishing a statewide charter school authorizer, and would rather see BOE decisions to reverse local school board decisions be binding, the board chairman told The City Paper. The board has agreed with 35 of 45 local school board rejections of charter school applications.

Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, is sponsoring the bill in the House. He said the legislation is targeted at Nashville and Memphis because they have the most charter schools.

The legislation now heads to the full House Education Committee. 

11 Comments on this post:

By: Rasputin72 on 2/12/13 at 2:25

The lawmakers throughout the country are huffing and puffing trying to make "all men are created equal" sound plausible.

My guess is that sometime during the next century the "unequal" will have destroyed civilization as it is known today.

By: ancienthighway on 2/13/13 at 8:46

With any luck, the GOP can just legislate the Democrats out of existence.

By: KENW on 2/13/13 at 9:53

If the schools, particularly in Shelby and Davidson counties, were performing better there would not be this much debate or concern about charter schools. People want these alternate choices because they want better opportunities for the students. The local school board has every incentive to deny choices outside of their system, and no incentive to allow this kind of competition. To continue to allow a local school board to be the final authority on a charter school in their district is absurd.

Look at how Amy Frogge failed her own district. The people in her district wanted a charter school and she continued to vote against it, even to the point that she brought on a $3.4 million penalty. It's pretty obvious that her concern was not better education or better opportunities for students, it was simply keeping the fiefdom intact, poor performance and all.

By: pswindle on 2/13/13 at 10:16

The state is overstepping its authority. Is it legal to target two school systems? This is where the money is and the Charter Schools want their share. It is scary to think that Edu. Sec. and Rhee are at the root of this and our Governor is standing by and letting them run the state. I hope a good person will run against Haslam. We can't take eight years of this wimp.

By: ZacharyJB on 2/13/13 at 12:07

KENW, I live in Amy Frogge's district, and I am VERY HAPPY with her. She has not failed this district at all. I do not want my property taxes that I pay for public schools going to for-profit companies to operate charter schools. It is NOT absurd to have our elected school board make the final decision on whether or not to grant charters. Great Hearts has failed four times to provide the required information in their charter application. Ms. Frogge is not interested in "poor performance for all" as your straw man argument would have others believe. I voted for Amy Frogge, and I'm happy that I did.

By: ancienthighway on 2/13/13 at 1:48

Notice how the Legislature is quiet about how Charter Schools and vouchers will be funded. Nothing has been said because it will involve tax increases. Cut in the state government won't be enough, especially since Haslam has already conducted his review and determined that no cuts are needed.

Toss in this new proposed Czar to weed out antiquated laws with $70K just for the head honcho and it makes me wonder who really is the tax and spend, big government party. But I digress.

State needs to stay out of local government, just as the state wants the federal government to stay our of the state arena (another Republican, or maybe it's just southern, mantra).

By: CoyoteCrawford on 2/14/13 at 2:24

Charter schools must not be a good idea since the TN's Republican politicians aren't forcing down the throats of all counties. It must be a high business shenanigan. Force it where you can make money. Big Republican Government.

By: joe41 on 2/15/13 at 8:39

Another example of the two faced Repulican tea party. One the one hand they want less government. On the other hand, if you don't believe exactly as they do, they want more government control. That is absolutely incongruous and will be shown to be their downfall.

By: ChrisMoth on 2/15/13 at 9:48

I challenge ANYONE and EVERYONE to listen to the intensity that our School Board brings to the oversight of all our schools - here is the most recent meeting:

Then watch the meetings of the State BOE.

Really? Which organization do you rather have dismantling our neighborhood schools and replacing them with Charters and Magnets on the other side of town?

If the video is not enough to tell you how accountability to electorate, and spending "Nashville's own money" brings intensity to decision making, consider the frequency of meetings. Nashville's Board meets every two weeks - and its members are constantly in our schools, talking to parents, attending workshops, keeping their fingers on the pulse.

The State Board meets every couple of months. Where is the State BOE between meetings? Are they at our PTO meetings? Are they speaking at Peabody? Or, are they holed up in their mountain retreats?

YES - The State has moved all our schools forward by requiring every child to take the ACT, by adopting the Common Core Standards, by sending our Hall Taxes back to us. BUT, when it comes to the complex fine-grained details of opening charter schools, they are absolutely not the right body to make fully informed, and tough, decisions for all of Nashville's children and taxpayers.

Chris Moth, 2020 Overhill Dr

By: Badbob on 2/17/13 at 6:43

Smaller government? More local control?

By: Ask01 on 2/17/13 at 8:41

Let us be honest.

The only plausible reason to target Memphis and Nashville has to be the locales are Democratic strongholds. The Republican dominated state legislature needs to exert some dominance over these rogue districts.

To those who posted about the oxymoronic Republican ideology of preaching small government while simultaneously creating more government: absolutely priceless! I love it.