charter schools

Legislature gives final OK to rewrite of charter TN schools law, $6M in new funding

The Senate has given final legislative approval to the “Tennessee High Quality Charter Schools Act,” which authorizes spending up to $6 million in state funds on charter schools. The Senate vote Wednesday was 25-1. The House approved earlier 78-8.

From Chalkbeat Tennessee’s report:

The bill (HB310) would replace Tennessee’s 2002 charter school law.

“This law will ensure Tennessee authorizes high-quality charter schools for years to come,” said Sen. Brian Kelsey, one of the sponsors.

The measure was developed by the State Department of Education in an effort to address the often rocky relationships between Tennessee’s 105 charter schools and the districts that oversee them. The overhaul clarifies rules on everything from applications to closure.

Local districts will be able to charge an authorizer fee to cover the cost of charter oversight — something that school systems have sought since the first charter schools opened in the state in 2003.

The bill also establishes a fund of up to $6 million for facilities. That’s a boon to charter organizations that are too cash-strapped to pay rent and maintain their school buildings, said Maya Bugg, CEO of the Tennessee Charter School Center.

“It’s really an equity issue,” Bugg said of the facilities issue. “You have charter schools serving a majority of students of color, low-income, and for them to have this gap in funding, it takes dollars away from those students.”

The proposal had widespread support from the charter sector and from officials with Shelby County Schools, the state’s largest authorizer of charter schools, which has been sorting out many of the issues addressed in the revisions.

Just 35 enrolled in TN voucher program for students with disabilities

Tennessee’s first school voucher program, applying only to student with disabilities, has enrolled just 35 students in its first three months of operation out of a estimated 20,000 who are eligible, reports Chalkbeat Tennessee. Parents of the enrolled students get up to $6,000 per year in taxpayer funds to spend on private schools.

Officials say they never expected big enrollment, but are heartened by the program’s potential to grow.

Tennessee lawmakers passed the Individualized Education Act in 2015 to give students with certain disabilities public money for private services such as homeschooling, private school tuition, and tutoring. The catch: Students must leave their public school and waive their rights under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which mandates that all students receive a “free and appropriate” public education. That type of program has been lauded by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who has said they “empower” parents to make the best decisions for their children.

But in its first year, only 130 families applied for Tennessee’s program. Just a third of those applications actually were approved, and even fewer ultimately decided to participate.

Many forces conspired to keep the number low. For one, the program started in the middle of the school year, a time when parents are unlikely to want to shake up their child’s education.

Plus, only eight private schools got the state’s approval to accept students using vouchers. Many private schools aren’t set up to deal with different disabilities.

Often, private schools charge far more than $6,000, with the tuition at Memphis-area private schools topping out at more than $20,000 a year. Public schools on average spend about $16,000 per special education student.

Karl Dean, eyeing run for governor, unapologetic about backing charter schools

The Associated Press’ Eric Schelzig reports on an interview with Karl Dean, former Nashville mayor, during his tour of the state to promote a new book and his potential run for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Dean says he’ll announce a decision on the campaign in the first quarter of 2017.

Excerpt::

The coffee-table book written with Michael Cass is titled “Nashville: The South’s New Metropolis,” and features vignettes, profiles and photos recounting the city’s growth in the last 25 years.

“I would argue our diversity has been a huge part of our success,” Dean said in an interview with The Associated Press. “The fact that people feel comfortable living here, they want to live here and they see us as a welcoming place has been a big part of our economic success and our rise to prominence as a city that is a destination.”

.. “Obviously Republicans have a lot of advantages (in the 2018 governor’s race),” Dean said. “Their domination of the state right now is probably unparalleled.”

But Dean notes that Tennesseans were willing to elect Republicans governors when Democrats held similar sway in the state Legislature, including former Govs. Lamar Alexander, Don Sundquist and Winfield Dunn.

“What I hear from lots of Republicans and Democrats is that they want somebody who is pragmatic, somebody who cares about growth, somebody who cares about what the people care about, which I think are jobs and a sense of opportunity,” Dean said.

“Nashville is a city of opportunity,” he said. “And Tennessee should be a state of opportunity.”

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