House considers compromise on charter schools bill

Tuesday, June 16, 2009 at 1:28pm

Both House caucuses will meet this afternoon to work out a compromise on the hotly debated bill to give more children access to charter schools, sources told The City Paper.

An agreement could come as soon as later today.

Supporters and opponents of the bill have actually been meeting since yesterday, when they convened at Tennessee Education Association headquarters.

The bill, as currently written, would provide children on free or reduced lunch with access to charter schools – which are publicly funded, but privately run schools. In Tennessee, especially Nashville, charter schools have been successful in educating failing and disadvantage students.

The bill advanced through one subcommittee earlier this session and seemed on the brink of passage when it was stalled by House Democrats in the education committee. House Democrats took a caucus position to oppose the bill, even though it had some internal support.

The bill has the strong support of Mayor Karl Dean and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan even called out Tennessee’s legislators for not passing it into law. Duncan said states like Tennessee which don’t expand charter school options would be subject to lost federal stimulus dollars.

The bill’s primary sponsor Rep. Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) has kept out hope the bill would still pass this session, although at one point Rep. Mike Turner, the Democratic caucus chairman, offered a timeline of “next year” for a compromise.

Charter school supporter Mark Maddox (D-Dresden) was hospitalized with a stomach ailment over the weekend. Maddox had voted for the bill in subcommittee and then voted to adjourn the education committee meeting – effectively stalling the bill.

While the Republican and Democratic caucuses will be meeting to discuss the budget this afternoon, the charter school bill will also be under consideration as well.

Reporter Ken Whitehouse contributed to this story.