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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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

A Call for Accountability

Tonight’s MNPS Board meeting will include a call for accountability and transparency in the operation and oversight of the district’s charter schools. The call comes just over a week after the Metro Nashville Education Association (MNEA) released poll results they said indicate voters in Tennessee want charter reforms, especially around the issues of financial accountability and operational transparency.

 

In fact, MNEA Vice President Erick Huth is among those slated to speak. Huth’s remarks are expected to be on the Annenberg Institute’s recommendations for effective oversight of charter schools. Some may recall that prior to his selection as Director of Schools for MNPS, Dr. Jesse Register worked at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, which is located at Brown University.

 

The Annenberg 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

Also speaking on the issue of accountability and transparency is MNEA President Stephen Henry.

In addition to the poll results, two different recent reports indicate that unabated growth of charter schools could carry significant costs 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.”

Additionally, the Center for Popular Democracy issued a report noting that due to their susceptibility to fraud, charter schools warrant specific oversight.

It’s not clear whether the MNPS Board will move to adopt the Annenberg standards. At this point, it appears to be a discussion item among concerned citizens and community groups who are bringing their request to the Board.

Tonight’s meeting is at 5:00 PM at the Central Office on Bransford Avenue.

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

Voters Want Charter Reforms

 

That’s the message the Metro Nashville Education Association wants to get out as Nashville’s Mayoral candidates head to a forum focused on education this evening.

MNEA pointed to results from a poll of Tennessee voters conducted for the Center for Popular Democracy as evidence that charter reforms are a key education issue warranting attention.

The poll found that charter reforms focused on transparency and accountability received overwhelmingly favorable responses from Tennessee voters.

Additionally, the poll, conducted by GBA Strategies, found that voters ranked lack of school choice dead last among issues of concern on education. That’s particularly relevant given the advancing voucher legislation at the General Assembly.

Here’s the release from MNEA:

Metropolitan Nashville Education Association (MNEA) Leaders say a recent survey of local voters shows that Tennesseans overwhelmingly favor reforms for local charter schools to protect students and taxpayers.
Voters overwhelmingly rejected charter expansion as a priority, the survey found. Instead, voters favored charter reforms to strengthen:
• Transparency and accountability

• Teacher training and qualifications

• Anti-fraud measures

• Equity policies for high-need students
“It’s clear our communities support quality public schools, not an expansion of charter schools,” said MNEA President Stephen Henry. “We need to make sure ALL Nashville schools are held to the same accountability and transparency standards that taxpayers expect.”
The survey also found voters rated the need for more parental involvement and the reduction of excessive student testing as bigger priorities than expanding charters.

Specifically, voters favored by greater than 80% approval reforms that would:

  • provide rigorous, independent audits of charter school finances
  • require charter schools to publish how they spend taxpayer dollars, including all budgets and contracts
  • ensure that teachers in any publicly-funded school meet the same training and qualification requirements

“We need community leaders who will stand up for the strong public schools our kids deserve,” said MNEA Vice President Erick Huth. “This includes our new director of schools and our next mayor.”
The poll was conducted in January among 500 registered voters by GBA Strategies, a research firm based in Washington, D.C. It was funded, in part, by the Center for Popular Democracy, a national organization dedicated to social justice issues.

Here are some of the poll results:

  Total Support %
Transparency & Accountability  
Require state officials to conduct regular audits of charter schools’ finances to detect fraud, waste or abuse of public funds 86
Require companies and organizations that manage charter schools to release to parents and the public how they spend taxpayer money, including their annual budgets and contracts 85
Preventing Harm to Neighborhood Schools  
Before any new charter school is approved, conduct an analysis of the impact the school will have on neighborhood public schools 78
Ensure that neighborhood public schools do not lose funding when new charter schools open in their area 78
Protect Taxpayer funds  
Require charter schools to return taxpayer money to the school district for any student that leaves the charter school to return to a neighborhood public school during the school year 78
Stop the creation of new charter schools if state officials have not shown the ability to prevent fraud and mismanagement 69
Prohibit charter school board members and their immediate families from financially benefiting from their schools 65
Prohibit charter schools from spending taxpayer dollars on advertising or marketing 54
Serving High Need Students  
Require all teachers who work in taxpayer funded schools, including neighborhood public schools and charter schools, to meet the same training and qualification requirements 89
Require charter schools to serve high-need students such as special education students, at the same level as neighborhood public schools 79

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

Charter Schools Drive Up MNPS Costs

MNPS Board Member Will Pinkston highlights some key takeaways from a recent audit of Metro Schools. Among them, the concern that charter schools are a key driver of increased costs in the district.

In an email, Pinkston notes a key finding:

Briefly: The new audit acknowledges that unabated growth of charter schools does, in fact, have a fiscal impact on existing MNPS schools. The operative language in the audit relative to charter fiscal impact can be found on Page 3-16, which states: “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.”

In other words, in order to support the continued unabated growth of charter schools, MNPS will need to systematically close zoned schools. Conversations about closing zoned schools may need to occur, but cannot happen in a fiscally responsible manner as long as MNPS continues recommending unabated approval of charter schools with no offsetting reductions in the budget. All of this is further evidence that the Nashville School Board needs to consider a moratorium on new schools until all of this can be resolved.

The full report – The Operational and Performance Audit of MNPS can be found here. 

An earlier report by an outside group found a similar conclusion.

 

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

 

 

Lily Brings the Fight

National Education Association President Lily Garcia was in Nashville yesterday and visited Ingelwood Elementary School. Earlier this month, she visited Shwab Elementary. Inglewood has been caught up in a controversy over whether or not it will be handed over to KIPP for a charter school conversion.

Upon entering the school, Garcia stopped and greeted teachers and guests who had gathered to meet her. MNPS School Board member Jill Speering was among those in attendance, as was Tennessee Education Association President Barbara Gray.

Garcia said she had a simple message for the teachers and parents at the school:

“We’re here today because we are on your side.”

Two students took Garcia on a tour of the school, including the library and a number of classrooms.

In one class, Garcia asked the students what was special about Inglewood. The students told her they were very excited because the school has a debate team.

Teacher after teacher greeted Garcia and thanked her for her visit. Some were crying, citing the criticism the school has received and the potential that it will be handed over to KIPP.

Some teachers cried as they talked about their love for students and the needs the families at the school face. At an earlier forum at Litton, one Inglewood teacher expressed a desire to provide more support for both the children she teaches and their parents. She told the group that Inglewood is heading in the right direction, but needs the ability to provide additional meals and other services for families.

One teacher nearly broke down when he told Garcia and those accompanying her that he “loved these kids” and that they need teachers who not only teach them, but love and support them every single day.

An active group of parents at the school has been resisting a charter conversion, writing letters to Dr. Register and conducting surveys demonstrating support for options that do not include handing the school over to KIPP. A survey of parents recently published by the group shows that nearly 80% of Pre-K families oppose a conversion of the school to KIPP and that none of the Kindergarten families surveyed want KIPP.

A decision is expected this week on whether or not Inglewood will be converted.

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