New Kid on the Block

Charles Corra, an employee of RePublic Charter here in Nashville, has started a new blog on education policy and what he calls a “forum for ideas,” including ideas on charter schools.

In a post on charters, he says:

I look forward to a broad-based discussion of how charter schools impact Tennessee – whether it be negative, positive, or a little bit of both.

We’ll see how the discussion goes.

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

The Great Heart of KIPP: The State Board and Charter Authorizing

The Tennessee State Board of Education today used authority granted to it by the General Assembly in 2014 to approve two KIPP charter schools that had previously been rejected by the MNPS Board of Education.

The decision means the State Board has decided which schools will be opened and funded by MNPS rather than that decision being left to the elected School Board.

The authority was given to the State Board because of the Great Hearts Controversy.

Back in 2012, MNPS rejected an application filed by Great Hearts to open a charter school. The State Board heard an appeal from Great Hearts and sent the issue back to the MNPS Board, recommending approval. MNPS refused. Then-education commissioner Kevin Huffman fined MNPS $3.4 million.

And legislators, ever eager to micro-manage public education to the point of absurdity, filed legislation.

As John noted at the time, a significant part of the legislation is:

This might actually be a better financial deal for charter schools.  Under this legislation, a charter school authorized by the state would get the full state, local, and federal share of per-pupil dollars, plus a “local match” from the LEA for capital outlay.  The latter portion, especially, may be a change from how things currently work when charters are authorized by an LEA.

Specifically:

(d) Funding for charter schools authorized by the state board shall be in accordance with § 49-13-112, except that the LEA in which the charter school operates shall pay to the department one hundred percent (100%) of the per student share of local funding and any federal funding in the custody of the LEA that is due to the charter school.  The department shall withhold from the LEA the per student share of state funding that is due to the charter school as well as any federal funding in the custody of the department that is due to the charter school.  The department shall then allocate and disburse these funds to the charter school in accordance with procedures developed by the department.

It will be interesting to see how MNPS reacts to this course of action. The State Board has authorized the expenditure of Nashville tax dollars in a very specific manner, directing that those funds go to support the opening and operation of two KIPP charter schools.

It’s not like MNPS is averse to charter schools. Many charter schools operate in the district and the Board did approve some charter applications this year.

In fact, in 2014, the Board signed off on a plan to give KIPP an elementary school. As Dr. Register proceeded, this action actually led to the formation of East Nashville United.

At that time, the focus of the possible takeover was Inglewood Elementary. NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia even visited the school to build support for preventing a KIPP takeover there.

Ultimately, KIPP won the right to takeover Kirkpatrick Elementary.

All of this to say: The majority of the MNPS Board has not demonstrated a bias against charter schools or even KIPP.

Some, including Board Member Will Pinkston, have argued for smart growth when it comes to charters. Pinkston noted:

The school board took a fiscally conservative position. With 8,157 seats currently in the charter pipeline — including more than 1,000 yet-to-be-filed seats belonging to KIPP — that’s a total future annual cash outlay of $77.5 million.

What KIPP wants to do — expand the pipeline to more than 9,000 seats — would take our future annual cash outlays up to $85.5 million. None of this includes the $73 million in annual cash outlays for charter seats that already exist.

Pinkton’s argument and other analysis suggesting that charter schools do place a burden on the MNPS budget prompted Board Member Mary Pierce to respond with a straw man argument about the cost of closing all current metro charter schools.

The fact is, MNPS hasn’t been in the business of closing charter schools — they’ve been approving new charter applications nearly every year and have many more charter seats opening. It seems likely that the KIPP charter schools approved by the State Board today would have ultimately won MNPS Board approval.  But today, the State Board of Education decided they knew better than Nashville’s School Board when and how many charter schools should be opened in Nashville. They also obligated funds, including local funds, to the opening and operation of these schools.

One final note: The State Board now is accountable for the oversight and monitoring of the two KIPP schools it approved in Nashville:

Except as provided in subdivision (b)(3), oversight and monitoring of
charter schools authorized by the state board of education shall be performed by the state board. As requested, the department of education shall assist the state board with general oversight of any charter school authorized by the state board. (Public Chapter 850, 2014).

What happens next? Stay tuned…

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

TREE Takes on Charter Expansion

As the State Board of Education considers overruling the MNPS School Board and possibly approving charter schools for Nashville originally denied at the local level, grassroots advocacy group TREE is calling on citizens to take action.

From the inbox:

Attention Nashville and Tennessee Education Advocates! We need you to write the Tennessee State Board of Education TODAY! Be a voice for local control. Metro Schools recently approved two of fourteen charter applications.  Among the ten who were denied were KIPP, Rocketship and The International Academy of Excellence.

The International Academy of Excellence filled out an incorrect form and should have not been considered at all but was for legal reasons. These three charter companies are asking the State Board of Education to overrule the Nashville school board and divert funds from the Metro Schools budget to pay for opening their six proposed charter schools.

If you would like to see the local school board retain the ability to decide how to spend local tax dollars, and what schools should operate in Nashville, you must speak up NOW. Public comments are being received until October 7. Please copy this email list into your email recipient box:
Fielding Rolston <frolston@ecu.org>
Mike Edwards <medwards@knoxvillechamber.com>
Allison Chancey <achancey@bradleyschools.org>
Lonnie Roberts <lroberts@trh.com>
Carolyn Pearre <cpearre@comcast.net>
Lillian Hartgrove <lhartgrove@cookevillechamber.com>

It is fine to be brief. A few points you might to make:

1. Note if you are a Nashville taxpayer and/or public school parent.
2. Nashville currently has 8,112 charter school seats and will open another 8,157 over the next few years, under current approved charter contracts, effectively doubling the amount of charter school seats without ever approving another charter.
3. There is no evidence of demand for more charters and in fact there are currently many empty seats in Nashville charter schools.
4. If the state board of education overrules the local school board, it will force our city to fund a privatized public school.  A school that can not be shut down by our locally elected board if problems arise.
5. Nashville must be free to put its schools budget to the best use to improve education for ALL students. Under the law MNPS must adhere to their contract with approved charters and fully fund them.  Whatever amount is left gets divvied up among the remaining schools in the district continuing the trend of systematic underfunding which means not meeting the needs of our schools.

Thank you for your time and quick attention. Your voice is needed TODAY!
TREE

For more on the charter debate in Nashville:

The True Cost of Charters

Mary Pierce on Closing Charters

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

 

Pierce: Closing All Charters Would Cost More

MNPS Board Member Mary Pierce tried to reframe the charter debate in a recent editorial in the Tennessean. While many people believe closing all charter schools would save the district millions, it would actually cost the district millions.

Here’s what Pierce had to say:

As a new school board member, I sought to understand this claim and thus asked Metro Nashville Public Schools leadership, “What would happen to the budget if all charter schools closed and these students returned to their zoned schools?”

This hypothetical exercise, completed by the MNPS Finance Office this summer, showed that if every student attending a charter school in 2014-15 had attended his or her zoned school, MNPS would have spent roughly $3.5 million more to educate them in district-managed schools.

Hold up! If you are calling to close charters because it’s the fiscally responsible thing to do, I guess you need to stop that call. Let’s not waste millions of MNPS dollars by closing all the charter schools.

Charter schools actually get fewer dollars per pupil than a traditional school. Fiscally responsible!

On average MNPS spends $9,436 per pupil — $5,666 for direct classroom costs plus an additional $3,770 for indirect expenses such as transportation, central office and technology.

Each student enrolled in a charter school is allocated roughly $9,200, which often includes rent payments back to the district for building use.

Oh, look below! Mary Pierce puts it on the record that she does not want to charterize the district. MNPS rejects a huge majority of charter applicants, anyways.

We should not “charterize” the district, but should insist on the highest quality from all of our schools. Our charter review committees and our board have done an excellent job in recommending and approving charter schools. Anyone claiming that the MNPS Charter School Office is promoting unabated charter growth is not paying attention. This summer, the charter review committees recommended that the board deny 86 percent of the applications.

And finally, it’s not just charter schools that are taking students away from their zoned schools.

We should not ignore the realities of fixed costs. When students leave any school the result can be buildings operating under capacity, and that adds to indirect expenses. But, we won’t address the bulk of this fiscal challenge unless we include all our choice schools in the analysis. For example, Hillwood High School operates under 70 percent capacity while over 200 students zoned for Hillwood choose to attend another district school like Hume-Fogg or Hillsboro.

Go ahead and read the rest of the editorial here.

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


 

Pinkston: Time to Slow Charter Growth

MNPS Board Member Will Pinkston offers some thoughts on the fiscal impact of Nashville’s Charter Sector and makes a plea for the reasonableness of slowing their growth in a recent op-ed in the Tennessean.

Here are some key takeaways:

MNPS is ranked 54th out of 67 urban school systems in America in per-pupil funding.

Due in part to inadequate state funding, we trail school systems in Atlanta, Charlotte and Louisville, among others.

A recent analysis of teacher pay across urban districts similar to Nashville found the city’s teacher lag behind their peers, especially in Louisville — a city of similar size and cost-of-living.

Pinkston notes that charter expansion is expensive — and while he doesn’t say so explicitly, the question is: Is continued expansion of charters the best use of Nashville’s education dollars:

The school board took a fiscally conservative position. With 8,157 seats currently in the charter pipeline — including more than 1,000 yet-to-be-filed seats belonging to KIPP — that’s a total future annual cash outlay of $77.5 million.

What KIPP wants to do — expand the pipeline to more than 9,000 seats — would take our future annual cash outlays up to $85.5 million. None of this includes the $73 million in annual cash outlays for charter seats that already exist.

In short, there are lots of charter seats now and a lot more coming online even if MNPS doesn’t approve a single new charter application. These schools are a fiscal drain on MNPS. In some cases, this may be a worthy investment. But, Nashville residents should consider if they want a tax increase to support charter expansion OR if they believe any new money coming from a state school funding lawsuit should be directed at charter expansion rather than other education initiatives.

More from Will Pinkston:

Thoughts on the Next Director of MNPS

Charters: An Expensive Proposition

Charter Schools Drive Up MNPS Costs

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

Close a School Because of a Reading Assignment? That’s What One Nashville School Board Member Wants.

Ravi Gupta, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of RePublic Charter Schools, wrote a blog post about Nashville School Board Member Amy Frogge complaining to MNPS about a book that seventh graders at Nashville Prep are currently reading. Amy Frogge wants to close down Nashville Prep because they are reading City of Thieves, a book she does not want in middle schools. This is what censorship looks like.

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 3.33.42 PM

 

If you want to close a school because they are reading a book you don’t like, you may be closing a lot of schools in Nashville. We hear so much of autonomy in MNPS schools, but some involved in education are still afraid to give up all that power. Nashville Prep agrees with the teaching of City of Thieves. That’s all that matters. If parents disagree with that decision, they can take it up with Nashville Prep and their board.

Seventh graders can handle mature content. When you work with these students everyday, like I do, you know what type of content they can handle. The seventh graders I have worked with in MNPS can handle mature content.

Teachers & schools know their students. That’s what we are trained to do.

Nashville Prep knows how to educate their students. What can the Nashville School Board do to Nashville Prep?

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As a literacy educator, I hate seeing books attacked while students are actually reading. City of Thieves could be the turning point for many of the middle schoolers to stick with reading. While we are spending time discussing the merits of the books, Nashville Prep is making growth while other schools are not.

 

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 5.55.59 PM

Nashville Prep must be doing something right.

Please read the rest of the blog post that was posted by RePublic Charter Schools to hear about the claim that City of Thieves was too high of a lexile for the students at Nashville Prep and how Amy Frogge & Chelle Baldwin were for Nashville Prep before they were against Nashville Prep.

 

UPDATE: Amy Frogge has responded to Ravi Gupta with a lengthy Facebook post that you can read here.  She lists many allegations against Nashville Prep that she has heard over the years. You can read those at her Facebook page.

Since my post deals with the issue of the book, City of Thieves, here is what she as to say on that topic.

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 9.28.44 PM

 

This book currently resides in high schools in Nashville. This may be the start of at least one book being banned in MNPS.


 

Oops. Annenberg May Apply to Magnets

As we have noted, the Annenberg Standards have been adopted by the MNPS Board of Education. These standards were adopted to hold charter schools accountable. The Governance Committee met last night, for the first time since January, to discuss the standards that were already adopted by the full board. Well, it looks like these standards may also apply to magnet schools.

And the standards also apply to other schools, Gentry said. Specifically, the standards speak to exclusionary practices that might apply to the district’s magnets.

“There are reasons why we have that differentiation. There is a reason why we have wait lists and there are reasons why students bust their butt to become a part of those things,” Gentry said. “You strip all those things away and what does that mean? … We need to clean up our language, because the first thing that comes out of our mouths is charter schools, but that’s not what we voted on. These are for all schools.”

The issue of magnet schools comes up a lot when discussing choice. Proponents of choice believe families deciding to go to a magnet school are already exercising choice. Behind the scenes, choice advocates point out that some local opponents of choice send their children to magnet schools. Choice advocates believe this is clearly a double standard.

Magnet schools have exclusionary enrollment barriers for students, which is exactly what some people believe charters should not have. Again, some people believe it’s a double standard that magnet schools can have barriers for students to enroll, but the recently passed standards do not allow charter schools to do the same.

(Note: I don’t know of any charter school with exclusionary enrollment criteria.)

If these standards do change how magnet schools work, I would expect a vote to change the adopted standards.

Mary Pierce, a school board member who voted against the standards, posted to Facebook about the passage and discussion of these standards. She believes these standards were passed too quickly without enough information.

Adoption of the Annenberg Standards: Let’s be clear on the timeline.

April 3: The state teachers’ union, TEA, kicked off an email campaign with statements of support for the Annenberg Standards for Charter Schools. *It took 30 days to get just under 100 unique emails senders.

April 14: “Those in the know,” that a resolution was coming, gave public comments asking the board to adopt the Annenberg standards. That same night, Anna Shepherd gave notice that she would bring a resolution to adopt the Annenberg standards to our next meeting, Thursday, April 30.

The language of the resolution– that states the standards are for ALL schools– was not given to the board until the morning of April 30 and was not posted to the online agenda until that afternoon. Public comments are not given at the 2nd board meeting of the month, so parents from magnets or charters were never given an opportunity to speak and barely opportunity to read prior to our vote. It passed 5-3. I was one of the 3, “no” votes.

In the April 30 meeting, I asked Ms. Shepherd if she envisioned opportunity to walk through the standards that might be contrary to state law or require significant changes to our schools in Policy Governance and she said yes. Hearing of this opportunity, concerned parents emailed and asked for common sense when applying these standards and for a voice by affected school leaders–we received over 100 emails in 30 hours.

However, at our policy governance meeting yesterday, committee chair, Amy Frogge, would not allow discussion on concerns over specific standards, and instead said the standards were adopted by the board and would now become policy–pending legal analysis.

Ironically, the first standard in the Annenberg is collaboration–not seeing that apply here and wondering where our commitment to communications and community engagement is?

The school board has asked Metro Legal attorney Corey Harkey to review the standards and to report back on June 15. Magnet school PTSOs and PACs have already started to email their members about this latest development. I will update you once Metro Legal comes back with their analysis.


 

Does TN Need Annenberg?

Recently, the MNPS School Board adopted the Annenberg Institute’s standards for the operation and oversight of charter schools.

The measure passed by a 5-3 vote, with charter advocates suggesting the standards may not be necessary.

As Nashville’s education community prepares for a proposed RESET of its conversation, it’s important to understand why standards like those recommended by Annenberg could be helpful in Nashville and, in fact, in all of Tennessee.

First, charters are expensive. According to recent reports, they are becoming a key cost-driver in MNPS. That’s fine, if that’s what the community wants and what students need. But, the Annenberg Standards put into place a level of accountability and transparency designed to prevent fraud and abuse. That protects parents, kids, and taxpayers.

Next, without proper oversight, charters fraud can go unchecked. A recent report out of Louisiana suggests as much:

Louisiana understaffs its charter schools oversight offices and, instead of proactively investigating these schools, relies on charters’ own reports and whistleblowers to uncover problems, according to a report released Tuesday (May 12) by the Center for Popular Democracy and the Coalition for Community Schools. That allows theft, cheating and mismanagement to happen, such as the $26,000 stolen from Lake Area New Tech High and the years of special education violations alleged at Lagniappe Academies.

The challenges faced in Louisiana should be a cautionary tale for those who want to remake MNPS in the mold of New Orleans.

If we’re going to have a new conversation in Nashville about schools, it makes sense to do so under guidelines that foster transparency and accountability, such as the Annenberg Standards. In fact, as Leigh Dingerson from Annenberg suggests, all of Tennessee may well benefit from adopting these standards to govern the operation and oversight of charter schools.

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

 

 

MNPS and Annenberg

Last week, the Metro Nashville School Board passed a resolution supporting adoption of recommendations by the Annenberg Institute on School Reform for the operation of charter schools.

The standards include:

  • Traditional school districts and charter schools should collaborate to ensure a coordinated approach that serves all children
  • School governance should be representative and transparent
  • Charter schools should ensure equal access to interested students and prohibit practices that discourage enrollment or disproportionately push-out enrolled students
  • Charter school discipline policy should be fair and transparent
  • All students deserve equitable and adequate school facilities.  Districts and charter schools should collaborate to ensure facility arrangements do not disadvantage students in either sector
  • Online charter schools should be better regulated for quality, transparency and the protection of student data
  • Monitoring and oversight of charter schools are critical to protect the public interest; they should be strong and fully state funded

The adoption of the standards comes after MNEA and TREE advocated for them at a recent meeting, and the move was driven by Board member Amy Frogge.

Two recent reports indicate charter growth carries a significant cost to MNPS.

First, a report by MGT of America noted:

“… it is clear that charter schools impose a cost on MNPS – both directly and indirectly.  It is also clear … that the loss of operating funds caused by the transfer of revenue cannot likely be made up through a reduction in capital or facility costs.  Therefore, approving future charter schools does potentially meet the “bar” described in  Tennessee Code Annotated 49-13-108(b) which encourages local boards of education to consider fiscal impact in determining whether new charter schools may be “contrary to the best interest of the pupils, school district or community.”

More recently, the Operational and Performance Audit of MNPS found:

“The key question for determining fiscal impacts is whether enrollment reductions allow a district to achieve expenditure reductions commensurate with revenue reductions. Fixed costs are incurred regardless of whether students attend traditional or charter schools. The problem is that some fixed costs, such as building maintenance, computer network infrastructure, and health services do not vary based on enrollment. Therefore, teachers and their salaries are a key cost driver tied to student enrollment … However, it is not always possible to reduce teacher costs proportionate to losses in revenue. For these costs to be reduced significantly, the school would need to close altogether.”

Because of these costs, it seems sensible for MNPS to put into place provisions designed to prevent fraud and promote transparency.

Leigh Dingerson of the Annenberg Institute, spoke at the Board meeting and noted in separate comments that a statewide adoption of the standards could protect taxpayers going forward. She said that while most charters operate with integrity, the standards can provide a means of catching bad actors before serious problems arise.

Here’s Dingerson in her remarks before the MNPS Board:

 

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

Charters: An Expensive Proposition

That’s the argument advanced by MNPS School Board member Will Pinkston in a recent column in the Tennessean.

Pinkston uses an array of figures to make his case. He essentially reiterates research that suggests that charters typically perform on par with public schools and then notes they carry significant costs to the district. So, he says, we can either have unabated charter growth OR well-funded district schools, not both. If we choose the path of charters, it will mean closing traditional public schools.

Here are some highlights:

The push to dismantle public education in Nashville is running amok. Consider that in 2010, the entire state of Tennessee had just 20 charter schools. Later this year, in Nashville alone, 27 charter schools will operate at an annual cost of $75 million.

Even if the Nashville School board approves no new charter applications, more than 5,000 additional charter seats — costing $45 million a year — will come into existence by fall 2019 under current agreements. Yet charter operators still are seeking to create another 13 schools that would drain another $75 million a year from the school system.

To put it in perspective: This spring, MNPS is proposing to grow its annual operating budget from $790 million to $813 million — a $23 million increase. Not coincidentally, the budget plan contemplates about $23 million in additional cash outlays for charter schools.

In other words: Every dime of new revenue growth is going to charters, leaving little or nothing for traditional schools. The math is dizzying and troubling.

Pinkston makes a powerful argument: Nashville has to make a choice. More charters eating the growth of the MNPS budget, or a recommitment to supporting and improving the traditional public schools.

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