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?

Texas State BOE Rejects Great Hearts in Dallas

By a vote of 9-6, the Texas State Board of Education rejected an application by Great Hearts to open four schools in the Dallas area.

It’s not clear why the Board rejected the application, as the Board has a reputation for approving Charter Schools.

Of course, the Great Hearts Controversy in Nashville prompted legislation this year to create a state charter authorizer.  That legislation failed to pass due to some last-minute problems between the House and Senate, but it is certain to come up again.

Pre-K Tax Fails, TEA Appoints New Leader

Pre-K, TEA, and other education news this week

Yesterday, voters in Memphis rejected a sales tax increase that would have directed funds to expand Pre-K in that city. The city took the vote as a means to find local funding for a program that state has so far been unwilling to expand.

Also yesterday, the Tennessee Education Association announced the hiring of its new Executive Director, Carolyn Crowder. Crowder comes to Tennessee from Denver.  She has worked in education association’s in both Colorado and Oklahoma and was also a classroom teacher in Oklahoma.

Earlier in the week, teachers in Rutherford County teachers joined a growing list of local education associations expressing “no confidence” in Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman.

And, the Tennessee Charter School Center released a report on “seat quality” in Metro Nashville Public Schools.  The report prompted this response from Board Member Amy Frogge.

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

Amy Frogge on “High Quality” Seats

Yesterday, we linked to Andrea Zelinski’s story on the Tennessee Charter School Center’s analysis of “seat quality” in Metro Nashville Public schools. In the story, I noted 5 key takeaways, among them that the Center is calling for closing low-performing charter schools and that there does seem to be common ground possible in terms of moving toward expanding charter schools as growth dictates.  Both closing low performing charters and allowing expansion in a smart way offer a path forward from what has been a rather messy debate in recent years.

School Board member Amy Frogge has weighed-in on the “quality seat” discussion and offers this analysis on her campaign Facebook page:

The Great Hoax of the “High Quality Seat”:
We’ve been hearing this phrase a lot lately, but what does it actually mean? Those who use it are referring to standardized test scores. The higher the score, the higher the “quality” of the seat and therefore the school, according to these folks.
Here’s the problem. Looking at standardized test scores tells us only a little about a school. If anything,… test scores primarily reflect the types of students a school serves. Children in poverty, children who don’t speak English, and children with special needs struggle with standardized tests- for reasons entirely beyond their control. It’s not that these children are incapable of learning. It’s that they need extra support to succeed. All children hold immense promise, and standardized test scores often don’t reflect a child’s true capability. Tests are just a snapshot of what children can do in certain subject areas in a very specific format on one particular day (or a few days) of the school year.
Are we to assume that magnet schools have better “seats” because they serve children selected for their academic abilities? Are we to assume choice schools have better “seats,” even though the selection of these schools is made by parents engaged enough to know how to enter the lottery? (Research shows that children of engaged parents perform better in school.) Are we to assume that zoned schools that take any child who walks into the doors at any time during the year (no matter how great the child’s academic needs) have lesser quality “seats” because of the scores these children make?
In summary, then, the “quality” of a seat, according to the definition of those who prefer this phrase, has more to do with the child sitting in that seat (and the challenges that he or she faces) than the quality of instruction at a school. To presume otherwise assumes a level playing field, and in comparing schools, we are comparing children, not quality-checking mass-produced, assembly line items. Certainly, scores can help us judge how well a school performs, but it’s not the entire story. Anyone who fails to consider student population in determining the “quality” of a school just isn’t digging deep enough.
If the Charter School Center hoped to continue a conversation, they’ve certainly raised some points to ponder.  Frogge has engaged, addressing directly the “quality seat” issue without dismissing the call to close low performing schools or arguing that current limits on charter geography need to stay in place forever.
For more on Tennessee education politics and policy, follow us @TNEdReport

MNPS, Charter Schools, and “Quality Seats”

So the Tennessee Charter School Center has a new report out about the “quality” of seats in Metro Nashville Public Schools.

Andrea Zelinski has a solid report on the report over at the Nashville Scene.

A couple of takeaways:

1) The Charter Center wants to open more charters than the recent MNPS resolution would seem to allow (not surprising, really).

2) Nearly 1/3 of all Charter seats are deemed “low quality” by the Center’s own report

3) The Center is advocating closing low quality charters — a step in the right direction

4) It seems reasonable that as other clusters become more crowded due to growth, the MNPS resolution should be expanded to include those clusters for future charters

5) In spite of constant battling between the Board and the Charter Center, there is some common ground:  Close low-performing charters (the center could help by taking the lead on recommending schools to be closed) and allow new charters in more clusters as growth dictates.

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