Tonight’s MNPS Board meeting will include a call for accountability and transparency in the operation and oversight of the district’s charter schools. The call comes just over a week after the Metro Nashville Education Association (MNEA) released poll results they said indicate voters in Tennessee want charter reforms, especially around the issues of financial accountability and operational transparency.
In fact, MNEA Vice President Erick Huth is among those slated to speak. Huth’s remarks are expected to be on the Annenberg Institute’s recommendations for effective oversight of charter schools. Some may recall that prior to his selection as Director of Schools for MNPS, Dr. Jesse Register worked at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, which is located at Brown University.
The Annenberg 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
Also speaking on the issue of accountability and transparency is MNEA President Stephen Henry.
In addition to the poll results, two different recent reports indicate that unabated growth of charter schools could carry significant costs 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.”
Additionally, the Center for Popular Democracy issued a report noting that due to their susceptibility to fraud, charter schools warrant specific oversight.
It’s not clear whether the MNPS Board will move to adopt the Annenberg standards. At this point, it appears to be a discussion item among concerned citizens and community groups who are bringing their request to the Board.
Tonight’s meeting is at 5:00 PM at the Central Office on Bransford Avenue.
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