A bill allowing for a significant expansion of state charter school offerings has passed the state legislature. Gov. Phil Bredesen is expected to sign the bill into law soon. The next step for Nashville, according to Mayor Karl Dean, is recruitment of new charter school programs.
High-performing charter school organizations, like the Knowledge is Power Program network, will be “excited” by Tennessee’s new law, Dean said, noting Nashville should be putting together efforts to get such organizations here in the “relatively near future.”
“I think the key thing for us to do is to go about it in a real thoughtful, deliberate, directed way,” Dean said. “I think there’s a role here for the private sector and for the community, and I’d like to be involved, too.”
The new bill allows charter schools in districts across the state with at least 14,000 students to enroll kids, on a lottery basis, receiving free and reduced meals. The bill’s language defining that lottery process stipulates a 30-day enrollment period for charter schools each year and prioritizes students who are academically struggling. Such students may have either failed their own Gateway Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program exams, or be zoned to a public school that has failed certain academic benchmarks required by federal No Child Left Behind laws.
The bill also includes caps — a limit of 90 charter schools statewide, including 35 in Memphis/Shelby County and 20 in Nashville, plus an allowance for three additional charter schools that could serve students who have dropped out — as well as a review period for all charter schools every five years.
Dean said the 20-school cap for Nashville is a “big number.”
“That number doesn’t bother me,” Dean said. “I think that’s a number that is manageable, and will hopefully help with the quality control.”
Register wants good schools
Nashville Director of Schools Jesse Register also emphasized the importance of quality Thursday, when speaking to members of the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce. Charter schools “broaden the choices parents have,” Register said, and there’s room in this community for more of them.
“What we want to have are good schools,” Register said.