At a time when the COVID-19 crisis is wreaking havoc on budgets (including up to $100 million in potential cuts to Nashville schools), it’s important to examine priorities. This means looking for areas of saving while also acknowledging the lessons of the Great Recession.

That’s why Tennessee’s law on funding for charter schools warrants exploration. Specifically, Tennessee Code Annotated (TCA) 49-13-112(a) indicates:

An LEA shall adjust payments to the charter schools, at a minimum, in October, February, and June, based on changes in revenue, student enrollment, or student services

Well, we’ve got changes in revenue. That is, if the city is providing $100 million less, MNPS can prioritize funds and reduce revenue provided to charter schools. Additionally, Gov. Bill Lee’s “emergency budget” included significant funds for vouchers, which could result in changes in overall enrollment in both MNPS and Shelby County Schools.

Why pick on charter schools, one may ask? Well, for starters, charter schools are indicating they will be accessing COVID-19 stimulus funds designated for small businesses. Those are taxpayer funds NOT available to local school districts. Charters already receive public funding from state and local dollars as well as funds from private donors. If fiscal austerity is the name of the game, then charters seem a logical place to look for savings.

It’s worth noting here that a 2014 study highlighted the negative fiscal impact of charter schools on MNPS and a 2015 analysis further explained the financial impact of charter schools.

The ability of charter schools to obtain federal small business stimulus funds and tap outside donors should insulate them from any cuts in payments made by MNPS and Shelby County Schools. Additionally, the districts have an obligation to prioritize spending, especially in a time of fiscal austerity.

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