State-Approved Charters Raise Eyebrows On Metro School Board

A top Metro education official is skeptical, after the state gave permission to three new charter schools to start in Nashville. The Metro school board has its own system for vetting charters, but the state recently gained the power to sometimes approve them as well, to teach students zoned for the weakest schools.

At a meeting last week on new charter proposals, the Metro board’s vice chair, Mark North, singled out one from KIPP. North pointed to test scores at the school KIPP already has in East Nashville, arguing they’re not good enough to add another facility.

But just days after the Metro board rejected that application, the state approved a different one for a KIPP school in Nashville. North was guarded in his reaction, saying he doesn’t want to raise tensions with state officials. Part of the issue is that each student who leaves a traditional school for a charter represents thousands of dollars in diverted funding.

“Even more than that, is that it undercuts the good work we’re doing through the Innovation Zone, and the good work we’re doing in those schools.”

The Innovation Zone is Metro’s attempt to turn around its worst schools. It’s essentially a local version of the state body that has the legal power to bring charters into failing school zones.

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Monday the state authorized seven charter operators to open schools in Nashville and Memphis. They plan to add a total of 41 schools in the two cities by the end of the decade.

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School Board Chair Gracie Porter says she was “somewhat shocked” by how “aggressively” the state is moving on charter approvals. She says as charters pull funding away from the district, “we are still expected to perform as the same level, even with less dollars.”

At the same time, Porter wanted to make clear: “Metro School Board is not against charters. We want the best charters that we can possibly have. And we also want our children across the district – not just in charters but across the district – to really be successful. Oftentimes we hear that it’s us-and-them. I don’t view our system as us-and-them. I view it as metro public schools with charters.”


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