Pinkston: Charter Compact Led to Turmoil

Submitted by MNPS Board Member Will Pinkston

Back in 2010, the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a national charter school think tank, convened an elite group of Nashvillians and charter school leaders to ink a “collaboration compact” with Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS). The heart of the compact seemed reasonable: “Collaborate as partners in the city-wide effort to provide an excellent education for all students.”


What happened next didn’t resemble collaboration at all, but rather outright hostility. As it turns out, many of those who signed on didn’t really care about public schools. Their sole focus: Expanding the taxpayer-funded private schools known as charters.


For example, just two years after signing the compact, then-mayor Karl Dean, who’s now running for governor of Tennessee, roamed the halls of the legislature pitching lawmakers on a bill to strip local elected school boards in Memphis and Nashville of our ability to reject charters, which drain resources from existing schools. Dean’s legislation, which became law, instead gave the appointed State Board of Education the final say-so on charters – even though, here in Nashville, local taxpayers fund two-thirds of K-12 public education and the state is a minority investor.


Later, Dean went on to launch Project Renaissance, an anti-public education group funded by backers of charters and private-school vouchers, which would further drain our public-school system of finite resources. In 2016, Dean’s group tried but failed to defeat incumbent Nashville School Board members at the polls – less than three months after the board hired an energetic new director of schools who articulated a big vision.


So much for collaboration.


Another compact signer, Randy Dowell, CEO of KIPP Nashville charter schools, ditched the pretense of collaboration as soon as he saw an opportunity to ramrod new charter schools through the State Board under Dean’s newly minted law. Meanwhile, this year Dowell is effectively booting 43 MNPS students from Nashville’s Kirkpatrick Elementary School because they don’t fit in his business plan for a gradual conversion of the former public school.


Speaking of Kirkpatrick: Marsha Edwards, another compact signer and CEO of a pro-charter nonprofit group, somehow managed – after zero collaboration with the school board – to secure federal funds to build a new charter school right next door to Kirkpatrick. This will have a destabilizing effect on both schools. Last year, Edwards put her organization’s federal tax-exempt status at risk by partnering with Stand for Children, which has become a radical reform group, in failed efforts to upend local school board elections.


Jeremy Kane, a politician who finished last in Nashville’s 2015 mayor’s race, also signed on to the compact. Kane founded the local LEAD charter chain, which later declared war on MNPS when it sidled up to the failing state-run Achievement School District, which engineered a hostile state takeover of Nashville’s Neely’s Bend Middle School – a school that already was turning around.


Finally, Ralph Schulz, CEO of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, was another compact signer. The business group, a longtime mouthpiece for charter special interests, supported Dean’s law to punish local school boards and has even endorsed vouchers. Schulz and the chamber enthusiastically joined last year’s failed efforts by Dean and others to blow up the school board and MNPS – so perhaps some collaboration was happening, after all.


These days, the Center on Reinventing Public Education, which attacked the Nashville School Board in 2013, is now ideologically aligned with President Trump and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos – and it’s pushing local school systems to recommit to charter compacts of the past. My view: If the turmoil of the past seven years in Nashville is any indication, I’d say we’ve had enough so-called “collaboration.” I’m guessing other school systems have had similar experiences.


Perhaps it’s overdue time to create a “Center on Recommitting to Public Education.” If anyone wants to learn what we’re doing in Nashville to fight the privatization agenda, email me at:

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


4 thoughts on “Pinkston: Charter Compact Led to Turmoil

  1. Right, I keep getting emails from Dean’s campaign telling me how non-partisan he is. Not! He did not support public schools and I have not forgotten that.

  2. I am a public school teacher in Nashville. I do not support Dean because he does not support public schools. Like other rich folks, he wants his rich buddies to profit off of public education. He supports charters, and I do not. I support real public schools.

  3. You are right about the threat from the CRPE, which is funded and run primarily with money and people from the Gates Foundation. CRPE’s privatization agenda via charter schools has been supported by Democrats and Republicans, alike, and the “collaboration compacts” have been marketed and sold in many cities across the nation.

    Bill Clinton was the first president to fall in love with charter schools, and by the time he left office, he had achieved his national goal of 2,000 charter schools (well, almost–1,993).

    GW Bush then took up the paternalistic charter privatization charge, and with the help of NCLB’s explosive testing device placed under each poor school and set to detonate when the weight of poverty reached a cynically-calibrated point, thousands more charters replaced the exploding public schools across the nation.

    When Bush left office, the nation had 4,000 or so charters, and the federal drain, alone, to charters was $208 million each year.

    Obama came to the charter privatization effort with equal zeal, promising to double federal funding for charters during his Presidency. He came up short, however, with only $333 billion per year by 2016, but, even so, we had 7,000 charters by the time he left office. And, importantly, he supported and signed the charter stimulus bill known as ESSA, which replaced NCLB.

    If Hillary Clinton had been elected, no doubt we would have seen the continued proliferation of charters. Like her husband, Hillary was a big fan, and she had the support of both “teachers'” unions. For two decades, both NEA and AFT have quietly supported or conditionally enabled the continued unchecked proliferation of charters.

    With the coming of Trump, school vouchers have been added once more to the school privatization portfolio, so that we may see the federal government choosing to entirely disembowel public education while calling it parental choice.

    One thing is for sure: the charter industry is thriving business model, and the philanthrocapitalists will not sit quietly by and see their paternalistic empires crumble. There is way too much money in real estate and too much political capital invested to let the racist charter solution fade away without a fight. The renewal of these Gates-inspired compacts serves to remind school boards of their commitments in the past to bow to the charter industry.

    It will be up to teachers, parents, policymakers, and students to show school boards where the political power is.

  4. There is a book called Making the Unequal Metropolis by Ansley T. Erickson. It is about Nashville Public Schools.

    When I first entered a school here I thought this is 40 year old experiment that has gone horribly wrong but the history goes back further.

    This system is damaged and the bandaids, super glue and whatever thread being used to hold it together are failing rapidly. Like your chicken it is a hot mess and the current status quo is tragic, grim and pathetic.

    Good luck the day I never have to walk into one of those doors again will be a happy one. This is a project that requires major organization and effort, two things I see not happening unless rich and white.

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