If the Tennessee State Board of Education is going to get into the business of opening charter schools, a national expert says state officials will need to do their homework.
Lawmakers return to the capitol this week after leaving last year without taking a final vote on one of the most heavily debated topics: whether to give the state school board authority to oversee the opening of charter schools that have been rejected by local school boards.
Alex Medler of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers says his organization prefers methods that “de-politicize” the approval process of new schools. But he says a state-level panel still has to look at all the facts and can’t just assume a local district is being hostile toward charter schools, which are often seen as siphoning money from traditional public schools.
“It’s not just a question of do we trust the district or not,” Medler said at an event Monday hosted by Nashville’s League of Women Voters. “The big question is, ‘is it a quality application that should be approved because it helps kids?’ And you can’t tell that in a ten minute hearing.”
The legislation that would give the state a way to open charter schools on its own was prompted by a spat with Nashville’s school board. Local officials still refused to let Great Hearts Academies open after a months-long debate was reversed with a 20-minutes discussion at the state level.
“If it’s an extension of what’s perceived to be politics at one level for politics at another, that’s when we get ourselves into trouble,” said Alan Coverstone, who oversees charters for Metro Schools.
At the event moderated by Lipscomb University’s dean of education, panelists largely agreed that the current state charter authorizer proposal would be an acceptable – if incremental – step. Many charter proponents prefer having an entirely independent body vetting proposals rather than giving the job to an existing state panel.
A representative of the state’s urban districts was given time for a rebuttal. Lobbyist Robert Gowan pointed to statistics that local school boards in Tennessee approve charter schools at a higher-than-average rate.
“What problem are you trying to solve?” Gowan asked.