The Life of an Adjective or The Many Faces of Great Hearts

Following yesterday’s House Education Subcommittee meeting covering HB 0702/SB 0830, which creates a state-level charter school authorizer, most news outlets related this particular piece of legislation to the rejected application of Great Hearts Academies in their desire to open five charter schools in Nashville.  We did too.  It got me thinking about the nomenclature, having referred to the Great Hearts story more than once myself.  Without further ado, a working list (the first two are me):

There’s a dissertation here somewhere, I’m sure of it.

State Charter School Authorizer Bill Filed

It’s here.  As many (including myself) have predicted in the wake of the Great Hearts fallout in Nashville, Tennessee Republicans have filed legislation to give the state Board of Education the power to authorize (i.e., create) charter schools in Tennessee.  An amendment that rewrites HB 0702/SB 0830, heretofore an innocuous bill that increased the time to appeal an adverse charter decision from 10 days to 20 days, will be introduced tomorrow.  This caption bill has now been replaced by a bill that does quite a bit more.

The full text of the amendment can be found here.  The pertinent parts are reproduced and discussed below.

(1) The state Board of Education can now directly grant charter schools.

SECTION 1.  Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 49-13-104, is amended by deleting subdivision (4) in its entirety and substituting instead:

(4) “Chartering authority” means:

(A) The local board of education or the achievement school district as defined in § 49-1-614 that approves, renews or decides to to revoke a public charter school application or agreement; or

(B) The state board of education, if the state board approves:

(i) A charter school under § 49-13-141 when an LEA is the sponsor of a charter school; or

(ii) A charter school directly under § 49-13-109.

(2) There is no appeal of the State Board’s decision, if application is made directly to the State Board in the first instance.

SECTION 4.  Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 49-13-110(b), is amended by deleting the punctuation “.” at the end of the second sentence and substituting instead the following language:

; provided, that if the chartering authority is the state board of education, then no appeal may be made of the state board’s decision to deny a petition to amend the charter

(3) A charter submitting a renewal application can apply either to the LEA that originally authorized it OR to the State Board.  If the application is made to the state Board, there is no appeal.

SECTION 8.  Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 49-13-121(b), is amended by designating the existing language as subdivision (1) and by adding the following language as new subdivision (2):

(2) If the state board of education is the chartering authority of a charter school, the school may submit its renewal application to either the LEA or the state board.  If the school submits its renewal application to the state board, then the decision of the state board on the application is final and may not be appealed.

(4) Charters denied renewal or fighting revocation have ten days to appeal the decision to the state Board, except in certain cases.

SECTION 10.  Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 49-13-122(c), is amended by deleting the subsection in its entirety and by substituting instead the following:

(c)

(1) If the chartering authority is an LEA, a decision by the LEA not to renew or revoke a charter agreement may be appealed to the state board of education within ten (10) days of the decision, except for revocations or failures to renew based on the violations specified in subdivision (a)(2).  Appeals from revocations or decisions not to renew a charter agreement shall be in accordance with § 49-13-108.

(2) If the chartering authority is not an LEA, a decision by the chartering authority not to renew or revoke a charter agreement is final and may not be appealed.

(5)  This is the big one: This only applies to Nashville (and maybe Memphis*).

SECTION 11.  Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 49, Chapter 13, is amended by adding the following language as a new section:

49-13-109.

(a) If an LEA is located in a county having a population of more than six hundred thousand (600,000) according to the 2010 federal census or any subsequent federal census and if there have been two (2) or more denials of charter school applications remanded to the LEA by the state board of education with instructions for approval pursuant to § 49-13-108, then a charter school sponsor may apply directly to the state board for approval, and, if approved, the state board shall serve as the chartering authority.  The state board’s decision to approve or deny an application under this subsection shall be final and not subject to appeal.

(b) The department of education shall assist the state board with general oversight of any charter school authorized by the state board, including assisting with monitoring compliance with § 49-13-111 and the school’s adherence to the charter agreement.

(c) For accountability purposes under § 49-1-602, except for schools authorized under § 49-13-141, the performance of a charter school authorized by the state board shall not be attributable to the LEA.

(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.

(e) The department shall determine the amount of the state BEP non-classroom component for capital outlay to be distributed to a charter school authorized by the state board according to § 49-13-112(c).  The LEA shall pay to the department the required local match under the BEP for capital outlay as a non-classroom component for distribution to the charter school.

(f) A charter school authorized by the state board may contract with the LEA in which the school operate for school support services or student support services, including, but not limited to, food services and transportation.

A few things to note:

  • This is the political compromise I alluded to before.  There was a potential for a split in the Tennessee Republican Party between rural and urban Republicans, especially over an issue like local control.  This legislation is crafted so that rural Republicans can vote for it, without worrying that it will affect their districts.  Again, most rural Republicans (and urban ones, for that matter), have no problem “putting Nashville (or Memphis) in its place,” when they feel it’s warranted.
  • There’s a bit of a hidden hammer: While Nashville (and Memphis?) are the only places that currently qualify, other large cities (Knoxville, Chattanooga) could potentially qualify if they establish themselves as non-compliant when it comes to authorizing charter schools.  All it takes is the requisite population, and two charter school denials that are overturned by the State Board, and you qualify for state authorization in your city.  (Note: Knox County only stands at about 440,000 residents, and Hamilton County at 340,000 so there’s quite a ways to go for both of them to qualify.  This is pretty squarely aimed at Nashville, but there’s nothing to say the General Assembly couldn’t drop the population threshold either this year or in coming years).  Either way, having one of the qualifications for state chartering authority be that an LEA has twice denied schools, but been overturned by the state, is a none-too-subtle reminder not to deny applications lightly, or at all.
  • 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.
  • The performance of state-authorized charters will not count for or against the LEA.  This one’s pretty straightforward, and is likely to make it into the final legislation, on pure fairness grounds.
  • There are a fair number of incentives for new charters to go the state route.  Including the possible funding advantage discussed above, state-authorized charters would have a much smaller bureaucracy to contend with, and likely a set of administrators more ideologically inclined to support charter schooling.  The fact that this legislation permits existing charters seeking renewal to switch over to state authorization further confirms that the state appears to be actively seeking to charter schools, not just as a fallback for an inefficient or contentious local process.

* I can’t say for sure that this applies to Memphis, because I don’t know if MCS/SCS has had two charter denials go up on appeal and get reversed.  Memphis certainly qualifies in terms of population.

A Conservative Remedy to the Great Hearts Mess

In the wake of the Great Hearts mess in Nashville, there has been much discussion of a statewide charter authorizer.  The Tennessee Charter Schools Association, the Tennessee Charter School Incubator, and the powerful lobbying group StudentsFirst, led by Michelle Rhee, are on the record supporting a statewide authorizer.

The political question has been, however, whether rural Republicans would support such an entity, given that it would supplant local control with an appointed, statewide body.  It looks like this split between urban and rural Republicans might be real.  Speaker Harwell (R-Nashville), for instance, looks like she would support such a measure.  Just within the last few days, however, Rep. John Forgety (R-Athens) has filed a bill (HB 0446) that would change the existing charter appeal law.  This could well be taken as a signal that some part of the Republican caucus (or perhaps just Rep. Forgety — there doesn’t yet seem to be a Senate sponsor) would rather just fix the existing law than create a new statewide authorizer.  Here’s the pertinent text:

(D) Either the local board of education or the sponsor proposing the charter school application may appeal the final decision of the state board of education within thirty (30) days of its entry to the chancery court in the judicial circuit in which the local board of education is located. The review of the court shall be de novo on the record and shall be undertaken in accordance with the procedures governing common law writs of certiorari.

Does this foreshadow a split in the Republican caucus on this issue?  We shall see.

Vouchers, Charters, and Triggers — Oh My! A Preview of Education Legislation in the 2013 Tennessee General Assembly

Michelle Rhee seems to have her hands firmly around Tennessee Education policy as this legislative session begins. Rhee’s group, StudentsFirst, contributed more than $200,000 (or was it more?) in state legislative races in 2012 and they’re getting what they paid for. In short, Rhee’s top policy priorities are now the top priorities of the legislature and Governor Haslam. Here’s a rundown of these policies — all very much en vogue among the education reform elite. None particularly useful in moving Tennessee schools forward.

Vouchers

Or, as some like to call them, “Opportunity Scholarships.” After the Governor’s Task Force on Vouchers came up short of clear recommendations for a voucher scheme, Governor Haslam appeared to cool to the idea. He noted instead that legislators may bring forth a plan and he’d work with that. Then, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush came to town in early January and immediately following the Governor’s public event with Bush, Haslam announced he’d be introducing his own version of a voucher scheme. Never mind that the four largest school districts — the ones most likely to be impacted by a voucher plan — have all expressed opposition. And never mind that many private schools have indicated that they won’t accept the vouchers. Haslam has seen the light as shown to him by Bush and Rhee and he’ll now be moving to divert state education dollars to private schools. This in a state that ranks near the bottom in per pupil spending on public education.

Charters

Tennessee already has among the most liberal charter school laws in the country. Any student in any district that has charter schools may attend a charter school. The local school boards do, however, have control over authorizing a charter to operate in their district and control over closing charters if they are failing. All seemed to be going well with charters opening and growing in Memphis and Nashville. And then there was Great Hearts vs. Metro Nashville. While the Metro Nashville School Board approved several new charters in 2012 and has been fairly aggressive about recruiting charter operators to town, the Board rejected the charter application of Arizona-based Great Hearts Academy. They did so over concerns about diversity and legitimate questions over whether the school would truly meet the community’s needs. The State Board of Education over-ruled the Metro Board and directed them to reconsider. A new school board was elected. And the new board ALSO rejected Great Hearts. So, the state department of education, headed-up by Rhee’s ex-husband, Kevin Huffman, hit Metro with a $3.4 million penalty — withholding BEP funds the district was counting on. Now, Great Hearts is lobbying for a state charter authorizer — a state board that would be unelected and unaccountable — to be created. This charter authorizer would allow charter operators to bypass local school boards and be authorized to operate a charter in a district whether or not the locally elected school board wanted it.

Parent Trigger

The “parent trigger” concept is the idea that if a school is failing and 50% +1 of the parents in that school vote to do so, the parents can convert the school to a charter. Those parents may then “run” the school and hire/fire faculty and obtain other budgetary controls. This may sound like a reasonable proposition. However, in practice, it is a disaster. A school in Indiana recently “pulled the trigger” and the parents were stunned to discover the lack of available resources. The parents presented a list of demands including iPads for all students. The Board replied that in order for that demand to be met, a number of faculty would have to be let go. Parent trigger can also be used by sketchy charter operators to gain a foothold into a school. Rhee is of course behind this measure as well.

Each of these efforts appeals to policymakers because none require any new investment in Tennessee schools. The idea is that we already have money out there, and that if we just did these “new, cool things” we’d have better schools. They allow politicians to claim to be pro-education without making the hard decisions that would lead to meaningful new investments in our schools. Moreover, each of these policies has potentially disastrous effects on an already struggling school system. Stay tuned as the 2013 legislative session advances and these policies gain traction.