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  This caption bill has now been replaced by a bill that does quite a bit more.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:


(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:


(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.

Pay for Performance Coming to Tennessee?

Sen. Dolores Gresham, Chair of the Senate Education Committee, and Rep. Glen Casada (somewhat curiously, since he isn’t on the House Education Committee) have filed legislation to create a pay-for-performance system for teacher pay in Tennessee tied closely to the new evaluation system.  The key here?  Compensation would not based directly on value-added scores, but rather on how a teacher does on his/her evaluation (which itself is composed of at least 35%, but up to 50% value-added scores)

Senate Bill 0827/House Bill 0619 establishes a new compensation system based on a “maximum base salary schedule” to be set by a district, plus performance-based “salary adjustments” and “supplements” for various other things (teaching in high-need subjects, teaching in high-needs schools, taking on leadership roles, etc.)  The broad strokes are that this bill would mandate that local Boards create new salary schedules adhering to certain minimum requirements and restrictions (the most important of which is that pay for years of experience or tenure is absolutely barred).

A few important things to get out of the way first:

(1) This applies to licensed teachers.  The new salary schedule would apply to “instructional personnel,” which is defined as “any person with a license to teach in an LEA” under state rules and regulations but excluding substitute teachers. This would include counselors, librarians, etc.

(2) This applies to new hires, rehires, and new teachers.  The new salary schedule would apply to new hires in 2014 and beyond OR personnel “returning to the district after a break in service without an authorized leave of absence” (for example, parents who take a year or two off from teaching to stay home with young kids) OR personnel “appointed for the first time to a position in the district in the capacity of instructional personnel.”

(3) Anyone can opt-in, but there’s no going back if you do.  Any “instructional personnel” can opt-in to the plan, but “any employee who opts into the performance salary schedule may not return to the grandfathered salary schedule.”

With that out of the way, here’s the way the new pay schedule would work:

(1) A Board would establish a base salary schedule with a cap (the “maximum base salary”).  The Board has a certain amount of freedom to do this: (1) for opt-in folks, it will be their salary from the previous year, plus up to a 5% cost of living adjustment and (2) for new folks, it will be whatever the Board wants.

    • It is important to recognize the difference between salary adjustments versus salary supplements.  Salary adjustments ratchet forward — they increase the “base salary” of the employee (see section (c)(2)(B): “The base salary under the performance salary schedule for instructional personnel shall be recalculated each year to include the prior year’s salary plus any salary adjustments earned by the employee.”  Salary supplements are one-time payments that must be earned year-by-year.
    • Here’s the crucial point: Once you reach the “maximum base salary,” you’re no longer eligible for future salary adjustments, only salary supplements.
    • However (and this is a pretty big “however”), a local Board may “recalculate a maximum base salary schedule each school year, as needed.” (section (c)(3)).

(2) The Board then establishes its salary adjustment.  There’s not a lot of specificity as to what these would be, but presumably it’s an across-the-board compensation bump for those who qualify.  The “salary adjustment” comes with requirements designed to get folks to opt-in to the new payment system:

    • Each “salary adjustment” under the performance plan must be greater than the available step-raise under the old plan (section (c)(4)(A)).
    • Each “salary adjustment” can be no less than 10% of the starting salary under the old plan (section (c)(4)(B)).  In Nashville this would be a minimum “salary adjustment” of $4,000 (10% of MNPS’ $40,000 starting salary).
    • Teachers of tested vs. non-tested subjects cannot have different schedules or salary adjustments (section (c)(4)(C).
    • Salary adjustments are only available to teachers who receive a 3, 4, 5 on their evaluation (no teacher who scores “below expectations” or “significantly below expectations”) (section (c)(4)(D)).

(3) Finally, the Board establishes salary supplements.  These also come with requirements designed to entice  teachers into high-need schools, high-need subjects, etc.  (Note: Many systems, including MNPS, already offer some or all of these types of bonuses (sometimes referred to as “combat pay”)).  Salary supplements are to be available for the following reasons, and only to teachers scoring a 3 or above on their evaluation (i.e., “meets” or “exceeds expectations”):

    • Teaching in  a “Title I eligible school” (MNPS has 122 of them)
    • Teaching in a school in “restructuring” or “reconstitution” status (meaning a school hasn’t made “adequate yearly progress” under No Child Left Behind for at least 5 consecutive years)
    • Teaching in a “critical teacher shortage area” as defined by the State Board of Education (usually this is Math, Science, and Special Education, among other areas).
    • “Assignment of additional academic responsibilities,” presumably up to the local district.  MNPS has the ASSET program, under which (again, presumably) participating teachers would be eligible for a supplement under this part for taking on leadership responsibilities.

That’s the basic structure: Base salary + salary adjustments (up to a cap) + salary supplements = total salary.  There are some obvious methods to try to entice current teachers to opt-in (e.g., salary adjustments MUST be great than the existing step-raise under the old plan), as well as some efforts to get teachers allocate themselves where they are needed (e.g., supplements for high-need subjects, Title I schools, etc.).

The restrictions:

    1. Low-evaluated teachers aren’t eligible for raises/supplements.  Any teacher who receives a 1 or 2 (below or significantly below expectations) is not eligible for either a salary adjustment OR a salary supplement.  This means that if you go teach at a high-needs or Title I school, you don’t get the salary supplement just for being there.  You still have to get a 3 or above on your evaluation (which, given the way things worked out last year, doesn’t appear to be that difficult).
    2. Low-scoring teachers get reimbursed for professional development for the following year.  Any teacher who receives a 1 or 2 (below or significantly below expectations) “shall be provided professional development reimbursement for the year following the evaluation,” capped at $1,000.  This is in line with the structure of the new evaluations, which are supposed to provide targeted feedback, coaching, and PD to teachers who aren’t doing well.
    3. Cost of living adjustments are permitted, but capped.  These would adjust the base salary.  This provision seems to be a bit redundant given the freedom of the Board to recalculate the base salary yearly, but I suppose it’s supposed to operate in tandem because cost-of -living adjustments are capped at 5% of annual salary AND 25% of the annual salary adjustment available (which means cost-of-living adjustments are capped at whichever is less).
    4. Advanced degrees, except content/certification degrees, cannot be used in setting salary adjustments or supplements.  This appears to be a compromise provision.  In essence, the provision is an effort to get away from raising salary for any advanced degree, whether it relates to teaching or not (i.e., the mythical “underwater basket-weaving” Master’s Degree, earned online solely for the salary bump).  As the State Board and Commissioner argued recently, however, advanced degrees and years of experience are not correlated with increased student achievement as measured by our value-added and evaluation system. This last point is important.  To believe that years of experience and advanced degrees don’t, by themselves, lead to increased student achievement, you must believe that our current value-added model accurately captures whether students are learning, because that’s the data on which the conclusion is based.  There are studies on both sides of this point, but there is generally a consensus that (1) years of experience do increase student achievement early on, and to a point (see the last 1/3 of this post) and (2) some advanced degrees can help; others don’t.
    5. Any pay based on years of experience or tenure is absolutely barred.  No real other way to say this: “A local board may not use the length of service or tenure of any instructional personnel hired on or after May 1, 2014, for the purposes of setting salary, adjustments, or supplements.”
    6. Budget cuts can’t be directed disproportionately at the new salary schedule.  If a Board has to deal with a tight budget, it is not allowed to put the majority of the cuts on the new compensation system.

Some thoughts, though there will be a bit more analysis/discussion later: There are certainly other compensation systems that are even more closely tied to test scores, with the same base salary + adjustment + supplement regime.  In other states (e.g., Colorado), some supplements are explicitly based on a teacher’s value-added scores, a school’s value-added scores, etc.  This kind of direct pay-for-performance was examined by our own Peabody College, and found, experimentally, to be ineffective at raising student achievement.

Rather, this is a pretty tight fit with (and big investment in) our new evaluation system.  Rather than paying strictly for increased value-added scores (as some reform advocates would like), the new compensation system would weigh heavily on the outcome of a teacher’s evaluation.  Given that the State is adjusting the evaluation system as well, to decrease the prevalence of 3, 4, and 5 scores, the success of this new compensation system will depend largely on the success of the underlying evaluation system, for good or ill.

Note: For further reading, the Comptroller has a pretty extensive recent report on alternative salary schedules.  Disclaimer: I haven’t read the whole thing yet.

Edited to include item number 5 under “Restrictions.”  An earlier version of this post included this information, but it was inadvertently deleted in the final version.

Democrats Introduce Legislation to Repeal Virtual Schools

In the wake of K12 Inc.’s broadly publicized failures, and the dust-up on Capitol Hill about them, two Democrats, Representative Mike Stewart and Senator Lowe Finney, have filed legislation (HB 0728/SB 0807) to repeal the Virtual Public Schools Act.  Many folks may not be aware that the Virtual Public Schools Act (T.C.A. 49-16-201 et seq.) is actually self-repealing.  Section 216 of the Act reads:

This part is repealed effective June 30, 2015.

Rep. Stewart/Sen. Finney’s bill simply changes the repeal date from June 30, 2015 to June 30, 2013.

There’s a good bit of frustration with K12 Inc. and virtual schools right now, even by members of the Republican majority.  That being said, however, Sen. Gresham, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, has signaled that she’s not ready to do away with virtual schools just yet, as has Governor Haslam.