Charters All Around

Pro-charter propaganda machine Tennessee Firefly is out with the story of a bevy of new charter school applications across the state.

The story that’s gotten the purveyors of privatization so excited is that as of now, there are 23 “letters of intent” from charter operators planning to open schools in districts across Tennessee.

As Firefly notes:

School districts across the state received 23 letters of intent this month for applications to open new public charter schools next year. That’s the first step potential charter operators must take before submitting their formal application by February 1, 2023.

The letters of intent include proposed schools in four counties that do not currently have public charter schools and they’re coming from both existing charter operators in Tennessee and those who were rejected this year.

The applications come from a range of operators, including Christian Nationalist Hillsdale College – a group out of Michigan seeking to open schools in five Tennessee counties – Madison, Rutherford, Montgomery, Maury, and Robertson.

Should these charter schools be approved, they will undoubtedly lead to local tax increases.

The move comes at the same time Gov. Bill Lee and his privatization allies are seeking to expand the state’s fledgling school voucher program.

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

Guess Who’s Back?

It’s Hillsdale College and their quest to open Christian Nationalist charter schools in Tennessee.

Chalkbeat reports:

American Classical Education filed letters of intent in recent days with school districts in Madison, Montgomery, Maury, Robertson, and Rutherford counties — all growing suburban areas near Nashville. The proposed schools would open in the 2024-25 school year.

I reported in September on the early withdrawal of Hillsdale’s initial applications – in Madison, Montgomery, and Rutherford counties:

The withdrawal of the appeals, of course, doesn’t mean Hillsdale is no longer interested in Tennessee. It simply doesn’t make sense to conduct such an aggressive campaign and just walk away.

Here’s what NewsChannel5’s Phil Williams reported on the premature exit:

“We made this decision because of the limited time to resolve the concerns raised by the commission staff and our concerns that the meeting structure and timing on Oct. 5 will not allow commissioners to hear directly from the community members whose interests lie at the heart of the commission’s work,” board chair Dolores Gresham wrote in a letter delivered Thursday to the commission.

Gresham, it’s worth noting, is a former Chair of the Senate Education Committee and a legislator with a long history of supporting efforts to shift public money to private schools.

As Williams notes in his story, Hillsdale had asked for a delay in the vote – that is, they had still hoped to appeal and to win those appeals.

This seems to indicate the schools will continue their PR offensive and hope to shift public opinion in order to secure public funds for their Christian nationalist vision.

In short, those predicting Hillsdale’s return were right.

Gov. Lee made his pact with Hillsdale clear in his State of the State in January of this year. Now, it seems Hillsdale and Lee are ready to make good on that promise – the promise of turning over local tax dollars to support what is essentially private, Christian education.

This comes at a significant cost to local taxpayers, of course.

I’ve noted before that if the schools were to open according to Hillsdale’s stated plan, school districts would lose millions in funding in year one alone – and that funding loss would be compounded going forward:

Here’s the deal: 2023 is the first year of school funding under the new, TISA model. This means the charters stand to get more money – based of just under $7000 per student PLUS weights for a variety of categories.

Taking it at just the base, though, each of these districts stands to lose nearly $2.3 million in funding in YEAR ONE of the charter school opening.

Another area of concern? Hillsdale’s call for violent revolution to “overthrow” public education.

In a recent issue of Hillsdale’s newsletter – Imprimis – President Larry Arnn talks about the current “culture wars” and notes that the battle for public schools has “not yet” necessitated violence.

I have said and written many times that the political contest between parents and people who make an independent living, on the one hand, and the administrative state and all its mighty forces on the other, is the key political contest of our time. Today that seems truer than ever. The lines are clearly formed.

***

As long as our representative institutions work in response to the public will, there is thankfully no need for violence.

What does this mean? Does it mean that in states like Tennessee, where political pushback caused Hillsdale to pause its attempt to establish charter schools, violence may eventually be necessary?

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

SCORE Hires Consultant to Help Charter Schools Maximize Take of Local School Funding

Nashville education blogger and new Tennessee Star reporter TC Weber reports that Bill Frist’s education reform organization – SCORE – has hired a national education funding consultant to help charter schools extract public funding for their private operations.

Afton Partners, a national organization specializing in school funding and education policy, has announced via social media a new partnership with the Tennessee State Collaborative for Reforming Education (SCORE) and The Tennessee Charter School Center (TCSC). The stated purpose of the budding collaboration is to help Tennessee’s charter school leaders better understand the operational and financial implications of Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA) – the state’s new funding formula for public schools.

The bottom line: The consultant is being paid to help charter operators get the most money from TISA – meaning a greater negative impact to local school system budgets.

This comes as no surprise, as SCORE has been driving the TN education reform bus for more than a decade:

It’s kind of amazing to watch the people who have been the key drivers of reform tell us that 1) schools are failing and 2) they NOW know the solution. If their first claim is true, why in the hell would we let them dictate education policy going forward?

Make no mistake: SCORE is all-in on the privatization of Tennessee’s public schools – and this collaboration is further evidence of where they stand.

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

MythBusters

Nate Rau at Axios has the story about a new nonprofit group that has the stated goal of highlighting the fiscal impact of charter schools on local school district budgets.

The group, Public School Partners, is in the myth-busting business. That is, they seek to dispel the notion that charter schools have little to no fiscal impact on local budgets.

This is an especially important project given a state charter commission with the power to override local decisions and force charter schools in districts where they are not wanted.

The group’s website features a fiscal impact calculator that allows users to determine the cost of operating a charter school in any district in Tennessee.

Here’s more from Rau’s piece:

The expansion of charter schools has spread beyond Nashville and Memphis in the last few years. As charter schools have applied to open in suburban and rural counties, scrutiny of their financial impact has escalated.

Charter schools are funded with tax dollars but operated by independent nonprofit organizations.

The issue reached a crescendo this year as charter schools affiliated with Hillsdale College applied to open new schools in Tennessee.

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The Erosion of Local Control

Gov. Bill Lee is no fan of local school boards or public education. Even before he was a candidate for governor, he was advocating for statewide privatization of K-12 education.

Now, Lee’s handpicked charter school commission – an agency of unelected bureaucrats tasked with advancing school privatization – is going about the business of handing taxpayer dollars to private entities.

NewsChannel5’s Phil Williams reports on the Commission’s unanimous decision to overturn a vote by Nashville’s school board:

A state board voted Wednesday to overrule the Metro Nashville school board, approving two new privately operated charter schools in southeast Nashville that local school officials say they don’t need.

By an 8-0 vote, the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission approved a request from KIPP Nashville to open an elementary school and middle school — both funded by taxpayers.

Later this month, the commission will hear an appeal from Founders Classical Academy, a group previously associated with the controversial Hillsdale College, to open charter schools in Franklin and Hendersonville over the objections of the local school boards.

This is no surprise – Lee has consistently expressed a desire to suppress the voices of voters and advance a school privatization agenda.

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Lawmaker Shocked that Gov. Lee Means What He Says

Gov. Bill Lee has been shocking policymakers and pundits for a long time now simply by telling the truth about his school privatization agenda.

At a recent legislative hearing, lawmakers – some of whom supported creating the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission – expressed surprise that the law they passed back in 2019 actually does what it says.

https://twitter.com/TheTNHoller/status/1575487115722227712?s=20&t=OrTFinies5Ueh76rY-s27w

Gov. Lee has been saying this since BEFORE he was even a candidate for governor.

Now that his policies are potentially impacting their districts, policymakers are starting to pay attention. Still no indication they’ll actually do anything to stop it.

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Williamson Parents Speak Out Against Charter School

Founders Classical Academy is a charter school that has applied to operate in Williamson County. That application was rejected – not once, but twice by the Williamson County School Board.

Now, Founders is appealing to the Tennessee Charter School Commission. If the Commission grants the appeal, Founders will open in Williamson County despite the objection of the elected school board.

Parents in Williamson County don’t seem happy about this possibility.

Here’s more from NewsBreak:

Jeni Davis, lifelong Tennessean, and parent of a Williamson County Schools student and a public school advocate, shared why she wants the State Charter School Commission to vote against Founders Classical Academy forcing themselves into the Williamson County Schools. “First of all, we believe that children across the state – all Tennessee children – deserve access to a high quality education with high quality curriculum that meets state standards and prepares all students to become successful and productive adult members of our community. And these classical charter schools, including Founders Classical Academy, do not meet these standards and putting them into our communities would be a great disservice to our students. This is why the school board has already voted against the school twice.”

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Sumner Advocates Speak Out Against Charter School

A group of public education advocates in Sumner County spoke out against Founders Classical Academy’s charter application this week.

Here’s more from NewsBreak:

A group of public education advocates gathered today at a hearing by the Tennessee State Charter School Commission in Sumner County. The group urged the Commission to reject a charter school application from Founders Classical Academy. The Sumner County School Board previously rejected the application from Founders and the charter school is now appealing to the State Commission.

Rev. Matt Steinhauer, lifelong Sumner County resident and retired ELCA pastor, emphasized that the local school board has already voted twice against this charter school and that if the State Charter School Commission votes to allow Founders Classical Academy into their community it would override the will of the community and the school board. “I think we can all agree that all Tennessee children, all of them, deserve access to a high-quality education with high quality curriculum that meets state standards and prepares all students to become successful and productive adult members of our community. Forcing charter schools into our local school districts makes this harder to achieve when what we should be doing is making sure that our public community schools are invested in as much as any other state.” 

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Hillsdale Circus Comes to Rutherford County

Controversial Michigan-based charter school operator Hillsdale College brought its roadshow to Rutherford County this week and parents and public school advocates spoke out against the school locating in their community.

Nashville’s NewsChannel5 reported on the events surrounding a hearing conducted by the Tennessee State Charter School Commission. While the Rutherford County School Board rejected Hillsdale-affiliated American Classical Academy’s charter application, the school has appealed to the unelected state board to override the local decision. All members of the Commission were appointed by current governor and charter school supporter Bill Lee.

The Hillsdale-affiliated American Classical Academy is asking the commission to overturn the decision by the Rutherford County school board to deny their application for taxpayer funding for their privately operated charter school.

Rutherford County officials argue that the Hillsdale schools do not have a good track record when it comes to students with disabilities, those who are economically disadvantaged and the lowest performing children.

Here’s what Rutherford County Schools had to say about the Hillsdale application:

https://twitter.com/TheTNHoller/status/1570150496354140168?s=20&t=mssDevQQu2X0qAeSaVtsAg
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For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

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Damage Control

There’s a new player in the Tennessee education news landscape. Really, it’s an old player dressed up in a friendly new package.

Tennessee Firefly is an education news source that effectively serves as a mouthpiece for the forces of school privatization. Sky Arnold heads it up. Sky is formerly of the local FOX affiliate and before Firefly, was the communications chief over at Tennesseans for Student Success. Yes, Tennesseans for Student Success now has its own education news organ.

Here’s how they describe their mission:

That’s interesting because TNEdReport has been offering the truth about education news in the state since 2013. There’s also Chalkbeat. And, of course, Dad Gone Wild.

In short, there’s no shortage of people and outlets offering clear analysis on education news in the state. Heck, the Tennessean and Daily Memphian offer up regular doses of education news. There’s even Center Square.

Still, Tennesseans for Student Success, fresh off some big wins in the August GOP primaries, is hungry for more – and now seeks to drive the media narrative around school privatization with an outlet of their own.

What’s the real deal? It all comes down to Hillsdale College. The controversy over Hillsdale’s charter applications has caused the public – and policymakers – to take a new look at privatization by way of charter school.

Here’s Firefly saying that while the Hillsdale controversy may look bad, it’s cool to go charter:

Seems everyone is running away from Larry Arnn and Hillsdale – even though they have three schools (in Madison, Montgomery, and Rutherford) appealing to the State Charter Commission to gain access to local public funds despite objections from local school boards.

Here’s a bit more about Tennesseans for Student Success and their aggressive pursuit of privatization by any means necessary:

Anyway, watch out for the education firefly offering “news” slanted to promote a privatization agenda.

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

Your support – $5 or more – makes publishing education news possible.