Governor’s Charter Schools Bill Approved by Senate Committee

Governor Bill Haslam’s expansion of charter schools was approved by the state Senate Education Committee Wednesday. The bill removes the limits on how many charter schools can open and which students can attend them.

Senator Jamie Woodson has worked on charter school legislation for ten years, and she took over guiding the governor’s bill through the system.

She says the major point of the governor’s revamp is that it opens up charter schools to more students across the state.

“Number one, it expands the eligibility of individuals who are able to enroll, so it creates an open enrollment, so all children can participate in the program. It removes the cap off of our current system. Right now we have a cap of 90 schools.”

Woodson says by making it easier to create more charter schools, the state will be able to take advantage of private-public partnerships that bring non-tax-payer money to the table.

Governor Haslam announced such a program in Nashville last week. It would team $20 million in federal Race to the Top funds with private money to expand charters.

Enrollment at charter schools is currently limited to students who “at-risk,” mostly because of their poverty level, or they are attending struggling schools.

The bills is SB 1523 Norris, Woodson/HB 1989 McCormick.

Senate sponsor Woodson says the bill is one answer to how to reproduce the results of charter schools that produce new, innovative techniques.

The bill aims at utilizing private money that is sometimes available from foundations, Woodson says.

“Over twenty million dollars of private funding has come into the state to invest in two specific areas with our public charter schools. Number one, investing in high quality school leaders. And then secondly, how, when we have a high-quality public charter school… if they are, say, going from one to two or three schools, and then if you have two or three schools, moving and scaling those up…so that we can provide high quality public charter schools, if that’s an option that local communities would like to pursue.”

The House version of the bill passed out of a subcommittee late Wednesday afternoon.

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