House Sinks For-Profit Charter Schools Bill, After Rare Plea From Speaker Harwell

Speaker Beth Harwell spoke out against the for-profit charter school bill on Thursday. (File Photo/WPLN)

Speaker Beth Harwell spoke out against the for-profit charter school bill on Thursday. (File Photo/WPLN)

A House committee, spurred on by Speaker Beth Harwell, sunk a bill that would’ve let for-profit corporations oversee charter schools in Tennessee.

The contentious bill had narrowly moved out of an education committee on Tuesday after coming under fire from both parties over whether charter schools need the help of for-profit corporations.

In Tennessee, charter schools are controlled by non-profits.

In a rare gesture, Harwell said she was taking her hat off as speaker to wade into a discussion about which she has been quiet out of “tremendous respect” for the sponsor, Rep. John DeBerry of Memphis — a city where privately-run, taxpayer-funded charter schools are plentiful

”I would just ask us to be very cautious of taxing our citizens to turn around and give a profit to an out-of-state company,” Harwell said.

Harwell then cited a letter from Mayor Karl Dean in which he wrote that there is “no need to open up our charter market to entities with a profit motive.”

Rep. Mike Turner, a Nashville Democrat, saying he’s usually a full-throated supporter of Rep. DeBerry’s bills, also expressed reservations. “We haven’t solidified what we’re doing now to open it up to this,” he said.

Rep. DeBerry has maintained that the bill would let non-profits concentrate on academics while contracting with corporations to do things like manage facilities. Critics said that concept could be taken to far. DeBerry has said that, since he introduced the bill, the word “profit” has been demonized.

Tennessee is among half a dozen states that  require charter schools to be operated by non-profits. DeBerry, however, says adding corporations in the mix would bolster classroom results.

“My intention was never to put anything divisive in front of the House,” DeBerry said.

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