Welcome to the Charter Party

On Friday afternoon before Mother’s Day weekend and just after the Tennessee General Assembly had adjourned, the Tennessee Department of Education announced 15 grants for charter school applicants – including grants for charter applications in several districts that do not currently authorize any charter schools – Rutherford County, Montgomery County, Millington Municipal, Fayette County, and Williamson County. The grants would allow applicants to plan and design their applications, and the applicants could ultimately bypass local school districts and receive charter authorization from Gov. Lee’s “Super Charter Commission.” The grants could also result in usurping the authority of elected school boards in Shelby, Hamilton, and Davidson counties.

Here’s more from a TNDOE press release:

Today, the Tennessee Department of Education announced that 15 applicants have been awarded subgrants under the Charter School Expansion Grant. These funds are intended to support sponsors throughout the planning, design, application, and potential launch of new charter schools in the state.

These subgrants will fund up to 8,800 new high-quality charter school seats that, subject to authorizer approval, will be available to students in five districts that currently do not have any charter schools and in three districts that already authorize charter schools.

Subgrants totaling $6.3 million were awarded primarily from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER), which is the second GEER grant designed specifically to support charter schools, with additional funds from the Charter School Program grant.

And, the key line about subverting the will of voters in these districts:

The review process for charter school applications for the 2022-23 school year is ongoing and the subgrant awards are contingent upon approval of the proposed charter school by the applicants’ respective school districts or, if an appeal occurs, the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission. (emphasis added).

That’s right, school privatization is coming to Tennessee in suburban and rural districts whether voters want it or not. While Lee’s voucher scheme is bogged down in court, Lee is acting unilaterally to charterize Tennessee’s public schools.

This is exactly what Memphis state Rep. Antonio Parkinson said would happen back in 2019:

Of course, this should come as no surprise to anyone paying attention to Lee and his affinity for privatization.

No word yet from Republican lawmakers in Fayette, Montgomery, Rutherford, or Williamson counties on how they feel about Lee pushing charters in their areas without seeking legislative approval.

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

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Charter Schools, William Lamberth, and Math

I’ve written recently about Governor Bill Lee’s Charter School Slush Fund and how the funds are beginning to be distributed across the state. This money is dedicated to capital improvements and is available exclusively to charter schools, many of which not only receive BEP funds from local districts but also benefit from support from private funders.

Interestingly, House Majority Leader William Lamberth has been a proponent of capital investment funds for fast-growing districts like Sumner County, where he lives. He’s even sponsored legislation that would provide a mechanism for these districts to access funds. The legislation has failed to advance because of a price tag of just over $18 million.

So, if Lamberth is really focused on securing state funds for capital investment in the district he represents, he COULD suggest that Sumner County convert all of its schools to charter schools. That way, they could access the Charter School Slush Fund.

Based on current enrollment numbers, the Charter School Slush Fund provides roughly $285 per student for charter schools. If every single school in Sumner County became a charter school, the district could access over $8 million in capital funding from the state.

State law specifically authorizes local districts to convert existing schools to charters. TCA 49-13-106 provides:

(g)  A public charter school may be formed by creating a new school or converting a school to charter status pursuant to this chapter.


(3)  An existing public school may convert to a public charter school pursuant to this chapter if the parents of at least sixty percent (60%) of the children enrolled in the school, or at least sixty percent (60%) of the teachers assigned to the school, support the conversion and demonstrate such support by signing a petition seeking conversion, and if the LEA approves the application for conversion. The percentage of parents signing a petition must be calculated on the basis of one (1) vote for each child enrolled in the school.

So, instead of Lamberth running his capital improvement bill next session, he could simply ask the Sumner County School Board to convert their schools to charters. That way, they’d be sure to be on Governor Bill Lee’s radar AND they could access monies from the Charter School Slush Fund.

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

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