Nashville school board member Amy Frogge explains the impact of charter schools on MNPS in a recent Facebook post:
Last night, the board voted to close and consolidate schools in North Nashville. No one wants to close neighborhood schools, and this was a difficult decision. However, MNPS is out of money, and Dr. Battle recommended the closures because she believes MNPS can better serve the impacted students if we consolidate our resources.
These closures are a direct result of charter school expansion in Nashville. What happened last night is part of the charter school playbook. It’s happened in cities throughout the US. When a city opens a number of charter schools, enrollment decreases in traditional schools. The city is then trying to fund two separate, competing schools systems with the same pot of funding. Here in Nashville, our pot of funding was already insufficient. Because of state law, charter schools will always have the advantage because they must be paid, and they are always funded first. So cuts always come from our traditional, neighborhood schools. When money runs out, a city must close neighborhood schools. That’s the charter school playbook.
Nashville is also dealing with the additional threat of state takeover. Through the state-run Achievement School District, the state can reach down and remove any school performing in the bottom 5% of schools statewide and convert it to a charter school. This strategy has not yielded good results for students, since the performance of the ASD has been dismal. All of the schools we closed last night were priority schools (in the bottom 5% of schools in the state). By closing them, we are protecting these schools from state takeover.
Last night, the board voted to request $929 million in operational funding for next year. It’s more likely we will receive $914 million, which is our maintenance of effort budget from last year. Of that amount, approximately $145 million must go towards our charter schools, which serve only a small percentage of our students. In fact, charter costs will actually increase by $6.6 million next year, while we must cut other costs throughout the district. The charters are continuing to expand grade levels while other schools operate without enough funding. Our vote to close schools last night will save us about $3.5 million per year. If we were not trying to fund a charter sector right now, we could afford to keep these schools open. This is exactly what some of us have tried to warn the board about for years. Yet the board has continued to vote for more charter seats.
What happened last night is the very vision of the charter sector. It’s called “disruption,” a term the charter sector has borrowed from the business world. Charter schools have “disrupted the markets” in Nashville. In this case, the “markets” are children and neighborhoods.** [See below.]
Also, back in 2013, I spent nearly a year fighting the passage of the state charter authorizer law. I testified at the legislature and met with lawmakers, all to no avail. The state charter authorizer law was then-mayor Karl Dean’s vision. He pushed to pass a law that removed local control of schools so that Nashville would open more charter schools. So here we now sit- lacking adequate school funding, without local control of our schools, and with increased money going towards the charter sector while we close neighborhood schools. The chickens have finally come home to roost.
None of this is Dr. Battle’s fault. She is dealing with the outcomes of decisions made years ago, as well as a current emergency. Dr. Battle actually found a way to reduce funding for charter schools this year, which surprised me, since we have never been able to cut charter funding before. It’s only fair that if our district schools must suffer cuts, charter schools should, too. The good news here is that the district has no plans to sell any of the vacated buildings or to rent them to charter schools. (Handing over vacated buildings to charter schools is also part of the charter playbook.) Dr. Battle has provided us assurance that this will not happen. Instead the schools will be preserved for district use and can be reopened as neighborhood schools in the future if enrollment increases.
Equity has always been at the heart of the charter debate. Not only do charters receive district funding, but charters also have access to additional funding as well. Our district provides charter schools with the per pupil funding required by state, as well as some free district services. On top of that, charter schools often receive extra funding from investors or philanthropists, and they are sometimes provided with special funding. For example, back in 2010, at a time when we had no funds to renovate other school buildings that had been on a waiting list for years, Mayor Dean gave KIPP $10 million to renovate a historic building for ONE charter school ALONE. And now, in the midst of a pandemic, even though most charter schools are not losing funding, charters are applying for federal aid in the form of small business loans that can be forgiven. None of this is fair or right. By opening charter schools, we have created greater inequities in our school system. Our traditional schools, which serve the most costly and challenging to educate students are on the losing end, and those are the students who will suffer the loss.
I hope this has been an eye-opening experience for Nashville. Charter schools, which make money for wealthy investors, are not the answer. Nashville must focus on supporting our community schools.
[** As one commenter says below: “School closings are the heart of free market based ed ‘reform.’ The entire concept is that schools compete for limited funds, that ‘bad’ schools will lose and close and ‘good’ schools will win and have the funds directed toward them. Besides the fact that this model has not been successful at producing large scale improvements for kids, there is this – If you oppose school closures and the disruption and pain they cause communities and families, you should not support a competition based model as the means to school improvement, because school closings are the inevitable end result and the means by which the market ‘reform’ system is intended to work. If Tennessee continues to pursue this approach, we will see this happen more and more.
Another note – this is why you very rarely see ‘reform’ funders and organizations advocate for large scale increases in investment in public schools, and instead refer to ‘throwing money at the problem.’ Keeping resources limited and requiring educators to compete over them, with winners and losers, is another essential aspect of the competition/market model.”]
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