The Difference Between For-Profit Charter Schools And Schools Run By For-Profits

Charter Schools USA of Florida and Michigan-based National Heritage Academies have hired lobbyists for the last two years to help get for-profit charter schools allowed in Tennessee. Credit: Charter Schools USA

Charter Schools USA of Florida and Michigan-based National Heritage Academies have hired lobbyists for the last two years to help get for-profit charter schools allowed in Tennessee. Credit: Charter Schools USA via Facebook

Supporters of for-profit charter schools are trying to avoid using those words. Debate in the state legislature has gotten hung up on semantics.

When does a charter school become “for-profit”? Lobbyist Tom Lee says his clients who want to come to Tennessee don’t expect to start their own schools here. They just want to run them.

“Tennessee law is explicit on this point that only a not-for-profit organization can obtain a charter,” Lee told the House Education Subcommittee. “This bill doesn’t change that.”

But the proposal would allow that non-profit entity to outsource management of the institution.

“We’re grasping at straws, picking at nits, whatever you want to call it,” says Rep. Joe Pitts (D-Clarksville). “Tell me where the difference lies. There is no difference.”

Pitts says for all practical purposes, these would be for-profit charter schools. And he – for one – is skeptical that would have the best interest of students at heart when profits are on the line.

But the sponsors of the law change say the state shouldn’t discriminate, and that if a profit-driven company is good at running schools, it should be allowed to, just like private companies already run several Tennessee prisons.

Somewhat surprisingly, the bill’s chief sponsor isn’t the one trying to keep from calling them “for-profit charters.” Rep. John DeBerry (D-Memphis) doesn’t care what people say.

“I think it’s confusion for the sake of confusion,” he said.

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