Shelby County’s iZone May Seek Expensive Charter Bailout

The Memphis Commercial Appeal reports that Shelby County’s iZone schools may be handed over to charter operators in the manner of the Achievement School District. This is because a federal grant is running out and the continuation of the iZone under its current operating format may be too expensive an investment for Shelby County Schools.

The iZone is getting good results, the schools are managed by the district, the teachers receive pay incentives and additional support, and the district is thinking about abandoning the program for a model similr to the ASD – a model the iZone beats in head-to-head comparisons.

It seems that perhaps the district ought to be considering ways to expand the iZone to reach more Shelby County Schools in need of additional support. Instead, they are looking at leaving behind what’s working for model that’s not getting great results.

Moreover, a recent report out of Nashville indicates that the growth of charter schools there also leads to increased costs for the district. So, the proposed solution to the dilemma of continued iZone funding may actually result in a net increase in costs to Shelby County Schools if not managed properly.

Finally, the type of disruption of taking the iZone schools and handing them over to various charter operators can also be disruptive to student learning.

Perhaps Shelby County Schools will ultimately decide to keep its iZone as it is or even expand it. For now, the question is: Why are they looking at a costly, unproven solution when they’ve got a good thing going?

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

 

Report: Charter Schools an Expensive Proposition for MNPS

A report by a third-party group commissioned by the MNPS School Board finds that the rapid growth of charter schools in Nashville is having a negative financial impact on the district.

The report, prepared by MGT of America, notes:

“… 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.”  From this analysis, new charter schools will, with nearly 100 percent certainty, have a negative fiscal impact on MNPS:    

They will continue to cause the transfer of state and local per student funds without reducing operational costs. 

They will continue to increase direct and indirect costs. 

They will continue to negatively impact deferred maintenance at leased buildings. 

They may have an offsetting impact on capital costs, if they open in areas of need for increased capacity.

The report confirms what some have suspected: Continued growth of charter schools presents higher costs to the district than operating without such growth.”

That’s not to say that the report suggest MNPS should not approve future charter schools. The report makes recommendations for handling future growth of charter schools, including encouraging such growth in areas of the school system experiencing rapid student growth. The Board adopted just such a proposal earlier this year.

The recommendations for managing future growth include: Developing a process to identify and quantify indirect costs to MNPS, such as support services; establishing a separate fund to better account for direct and indirect costs; levying depreciation charges to charter operators leasing MNPS facilities; and identifying areas of the school district where charter school growth would help offset the need for MNPS capital growth and expenditures.

The study is likely to shape future discussions at the Board level about what direction future charter growth will take.

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

Cheatham County Charter School Denied Again

A proposed charter school in Cheatham County was turned down by the School Board for the second time last night.

The application had previously been rejected, but the organizers revised their application and appealed.

25th District State Senate candidate Tony Gross helped organize opposition to the charter application and this morning sent out an email thanking those who came out to speak in opposition.

Here’s what he had to say:

Twice, outside groups have attempted to push a costly charter school into Cheatham County. And twice, we have defeated it.
 
I am so proud of what we accomplished last night. For everyone of you who supported this cause, thank you so much. 
A special thanks to all of those who came out to the meeting last night – people like Kingston Springs mother Rachel Harwood, who stood up to speak about the programs that are already being neglected in our schools due to budget constraints.
 
I think my wife Joy put it nicely: “When money is taken away from our struggling education system, ALL of our schools suffer.” 
 
Our public schools are vital parts of our communities in the 25th district, and you all stood up for them last night. But you also did more than that. You showed our teachers, who put their sweat and tears into teaching our children, that you appreciate the job that they do.
I’m sure that message is not lost on them tonight.
 
This was a win for all of Cheatham County. Our public schools are not just where our kids go to learn, they are where we gather on Friday nights for football games, they are where we have our bake sales and car washes, and they are even the homes of important local meetings like this one. 
 
They are so integral to keeping our community together, and thanks to you all, they will continue to grow and thrive.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Cheatham Charter Fight Continues

The original application for a charter school in Cheatham County was denied.

Now, the group is back at a special meeting to appeal that decision.

State Senate candidate Tony Gross is encouraging opponents to attend.

Here’s his email:

Cheatham Co To Decide on Charter Schools

We must fight back.

Friends, I need your help.

In June, we defeated a measure that would bring a controversial charter school to Cheatham County – a charter school that would draw important funds and attention away from our public schools.
Tomorrow night, the Cheatham County school board will have a special meeting to discuss the appeal of that decision. All we’ve fought for could come undone if we do not throw our full support behind our public schools tomorrow evening.
If you are able, I strongly encourage you to attend the meeting, which will be at the Ashland City Elementary School cafeteria at 6 pm. To show the strength in our numbers, we will be wearing white in support of our schools.
Public schools are the foundation of our communities, and the teachers and faculty that work there are so important in our children’s lives.
Let’s not let them down.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

 

MNPS Committee Recommends Charter Transparency

The Governance Committee of the Metro Nashville School Board met on Saturday and made recommendations for policy changes that will result in more financial transparency for all schools, including publicly-funded, privately run charter schools.

The changes require that private funds used to support a school be disclosed and that complaints about charter school operating procedures be handled in the same way as complaints about traditional schools are handled.

Board members who supported the change suggest that the new policy would lead to more transparency system-wide.

Board member Amy Frogge noted that the policy will allow for fiscal transparency and prevent potential financial mishaps.

For more, read Joey Garrison’s full story here.

 

Rural Charters Denied

Charter school proposals in both Cheatham and Robertson counties were denied at the School Board level last night.  As was reported here, the Cheatham proposal was particularly controversial. In addition to opposition from at least one candidate for School Board, the proposal brought state Senate candidate Tony Gross and his wife out to express opposition.

Joey Garrison reported on the two rural charter proposals and also on a slate of new charters proposed and approved for Nashville.

Cheatham Charter Fight Tonight

Tonight the Cheatham County School Board will consider an application for the district’s first charter school, Cumberland Academy. If approved, the school would open in the 2015 and start with 5th grade.  The school proposes to add a grade each school year until it serves students in grades 5-12.

The charter school proposal has been controversial, with at least one School Board candidate, Tracy O’Neill, raising concerns about charters.

Also, the Tennessee BATs (Badass Teachers) are promoting attendance at the meeting to express opposition to the charter proposal.

Earlier this month, the board adopted a policy on charter schools.

The Board meets tonight at 6 PM at Ashland City Elementary.

 

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

Silencing the Opposition

Joey Garrison has the story about some legislators who wish that local school boards didn’t hire lobbyists to represent their interests before the legislature.

To that end, they’ve filed legislation that would allow County Commissions to revise a School Board’s budget as it relates to lobbying expenses (HB 229/SB 2525).

Many school boards in the state are members of the Tennessee School Boards Association, which hires a lobbyist to represent the interests of school boards at the General Assembly. Additionally, some local boards hire contract firms and/or in-house government relations specialists to monitor state policy.

Of course, many County Commissioners are members of the Tennessee County Commissioners Organization, which employs a lobbyist to represent the interests of County Commissions at the General Assembly.  And many local government bodies also contract for or hire government relations specialists.

And of course, if local citizens don’t like how their School Board spends money, they can speak out at public meetings, talk to Board members directly, or even vote in new Board members.

None of this seems to matter to sponsors Rep. Jeremy Durham of Franklin and Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville.

This legislation would give County Commissions unprecedented authority over School Board budgets.  In districts that hire in-house lobbyists, the Commission would theoretically have staffing authority over that position.

In Tennessee, School Boards propose budgets and determine how funds are spent, County Commissions either fund all or part of the proposed budget.  But, Commissions have no authority over how school dollars are spent.  Their only recourse is to reject a budget and suggest amendments or improvements – which the School Board can adopt or not.

However, it seems likely that resistance to recent reform efforts by School Boards is at the root of this issue.  Recently, groups like TSBA and some prominent local School Boards have been vocally opposed to school vouchers, a state charter authorizer, and even portions of the state’s new teacher evaluation plan.

And, outside groups like StudentsFirst and the deceptively-named Tennessee Federation for Children have been spending significantly to push a pro-reform agenda.

From Garrison’s story:

Out-of-state organizations StudentsFirst and the Tennessee Federation for Children — both of which want a voucher system to let public dollars go toward private schooling — have ramped up lobbying again this fiscal yearafter spending some $235,000 to $455,000 in lobbying-related efforts the year before. The Tennessee Charter School Center is armed with eight lobbyists this session.

So it seems that rather than looking out for local taxpayers, Durham and Bell are looking out for outside special interest groups seeking to influence how local tax dollars are spent in Tennessee.

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

A New TREE Takes Root

A new advocacy group focused on countering corporate education reformers in Tennessee announced its formation this week. Calling itself TREE (Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence), the group is focused on advocating for quality investment in schools, accountability and transparency in the education system, and local control of schools.

The group is at odds with many of the heavily-funded major players in Tennessee education — StudentsFirst, Stand for Children, Tennessee Federation for Children/Beacon Center, and others.

Unlike those groups, which receive significant funding from out-of-state special interest groups and foundations, TREE is a grassroots, citizen-funded group born in Tennessee.

It will be interesting to see what, if any, impact TREE’s presence has on issues like school vouchers and a state charter school authorizer.

Here’s their announcement press release:

A grassroots group of Tennesseans backed by concerned parents, teachers, and taxpayers today announced the formation of Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence (TREE), a new advocacy group focused on protecting and strengthening Tennessee’s schools.
TREE is dedicated to stopping attempts by special interest groups to dismantle Tennessee’s public education system. “Well-funded, out-of-state special interest groups are now doubling down on their efforts to influence laws that will divert public money to private entities, further eroding our already underfunded schools,” TREE president Lyn Hoyt, parent to three Metro Nashville Public School students, said. “Public school parents, teachers, and advocates must be heard by our legislators.”
TREE will pursue several goals based on the group’s core values: quality investment in schools, transparency and accountability throughout the education system, and local control of our schools.
“We don’t plan to match corporate funded lobbying groups dollar for dollar,” Hoyt said. “TREE will be an authentic parent voice for legislators. We will work to educate legislators, parents, and citizens across the state about the dire consequences of legislation, pushed by special interest groups, that will negatively impact our public schools, teachers, and tax dollars.”
 
 
Twitter: @TNExcellence 
For more on Tennessee education politics and policy, follow us @TNEdReport

Wonder if the State Charter Authorizer Will Approve?

Blake Farmer of WPLN notes that legislation creating a state charter authorizer is just one vote in the Senate away from becoming law.  The legislation would allow charter schools to apply directly to the state, or to apply to the state if denied by a local school board.  Some have speculated that out of state organizations (like Great Hearts) will simply go straight to the state authorizer rather than dealing with the sometimes contentious local boards.

Cari Gervin points out that Governor Bill Haslam is on the board (albeit in honorary fashion) of this organization which is seeking to open a charter school in Knoxville.

If, despite all the Knoxville luminaries on the board, the group gets turned down at the local level, one wonders how receptive a state charter authorizer with members appointed by honorary board member Bill Haslam would be?