While City Services Suffer, MNPS Plans $45.6 Million for Charter Expansion

Former Nashville School Board member Will Pinkston offers thoughts on plans to expand charter schools in Nashville. Pinkston is the founder of Public School Partners, a project that helps local school systems control the unabated growth of charter schools.

This holiday season has been hard on many Nashvillians in the wake of Metro government’s budget woes.

Affordable housing advocates are seeing funding cut for their initiatives. Criminal-justice reformers are being told they’ll have to wait longer than promised for the rollout of police body cameras to protect innocent citizens. Taxpayers are bracing for steep rate hikes to bail out the city’s bankrupt water and sewer system. And the list goes on.

Yet despite citywide fiscal austerity, Metro Nashville Public Schools officials are clinking champagne glasses in celebration of their latest plans to expand taxpayer-funded privately run charter schools.

During the past three months, MNPS Interim Director Adrienne Battle has quietly recommended that taxpayers fund an estimated $45.6 million in additional cash outlays for charter growth over the next five years. Battle not only pushed for a new charter school that will quickly grow to nearly 600 students, but unveiled plans to expand three existing charter schools.

Additional recommended charter growth is anticipated in the New Year — even though MNPS principals and teachers report that more charters are unneeded and unwanted, and siphon away resources from competitive teacher pay and adequate support in the classroom.

So what’s driving the MNPS agenda? Clearly, Battle does not understand the destabilizing effect that charters have on traditional public education — and she has no regard for the fiscal problems facing the rest of Metro government. Insisting on the costly privatization of public schools is a slap in the face to Mayor John Cooper, the Metro Council, and Metro employees who are tightening their belts while the school system writes blank checks for charters.

No doubt, the charter zealots will respond by flooding social media with myths. They’ll claim:

Myth #1: Charters are better than traditional schools. Fact: Charters cherry-pick in admissions to enroll students who are more likely to succeed, and then “counsel out” kids who don’t make the grade. Each spring, school board members are inundated with complaints about charters sending kids back to zoned schools prior to testing season. Not long ago, investigators found that California-based charter operator Rocketship — which Battle is recommending for a new school — failed to provide services to students with disabilities and forced homeless students to pay for uniforms.

Myth #2: Charters don’t cost more money. Fact: An independent analysis commissioned by the school board found that charter schools will, “with nearly 100% certainty,” have a negative fiscal impact on MNPS. Former Mayor Karl Dean pushed for a competing audit to refute the findings, but his auditors instead confirmed that when charter schools open, they suck funding out of traditional schools where costs such as staffing, maintenance and technology cannot be easily adjusted.

Myth #3: Charters are in high demand and families are entitled to school choice. Fact: Wait lists at most Nashville charters are minimal or non-existent. Meanwhile, in this environment of finite taxpayer resources, charter families are not more entitled to choice than working families are entitled to affordable housing. Charter families are not more important than citizens subjected to police brutality. Charter families’ wish lists should not be prioritized ahead of basic municipal needs, including clean water and reliable sewer services to homes and businesses.

Defeatists in the fight to protect public education will just shrug and say: “We have to do charters because state law says so.” The competing argument, of course, is simple: Stand up against hostile state laws. Nashville can learn from Memphis, where leaders are taking control of their school system after more than a decade of hostile, state-mandated charter intrusion.

Heading into 2019, MNPS went five consecutive years without approving a new charter school. Now, unfortunately, the school system is sliding backward and reigniting charter growth at a time when local taxpayers can ill-afford it.


The Charter Truth

So Much for Local Control

Don’t Believe the Hype

On the Need to Slow Charter Growth

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TC Weber Shares His Anger

Blogger TC Weber has some anger to share and raises some interesting and valid points about public school advocacy in his latest post.

Here are a couple highlights:

We all seem to be willing to work harder when there is a boogeyman to face. Charter schools make for a convenient boogeyman in the same way that the cartels do for the war on drugs – now before everybody loses their mind, know that I am not equating charter schools to drug cartels in any way but in their use as scapegoats. There wouldn’t be cartels in the illegal drug trade if there were no demand, and the same goes for charter schools in that there wouldn’t be charter schools if the demand wasn’t there. I do have to ask, though, what if the boogeyman is really us and our inability to provide equitable educational opportunities for all children? Case in point: have we expended as much energy in improving our schools as we have in fighting against their takeovers? Can we look at parents who are considering sending their children to a charter school and honestly say we’ve done everything to make the public option better? It is time to get beyond this single hot-button issue and focus on the inequities that exist in our schools.

Later, he adds:

It is vital that as we fight off corporate attacks on our public schools that we are not just focusing on the supply, but have an equally diligent focus on the demand. We need to make sure that we are not falling into the trap of rewarding perks to adults while children are asked to make sacrifices. We need to ensure that we are applying every possible resource to directly impact the educational opportunities for our children

Weber has done his homework, analyzing current MNPS spending trends and highlighting some disturbing inequities. Read more about why he’s so angry.

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


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:


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