Charter school bill advances in Tennessee House

Associated Press • Apr 17, 2019 at 2:13 PM

NASHVILLE — A new state commission would manage appeals from charter schools whose requests to operate are denied by local school boards, under legislation advanced by the Tennessee House on Wednesday.

However, it’s drastically scaled-back from what Gov. Bill Lee proposed during his first State of the State address to lawmakers earlier this year. Lee wanted to allow charter school operators to bypass local school boards when seeking to open a new facility.

Lawmakers, school board members and others balked at the bill’s original language and later tweaked it to ensure local school boards were still involved in the process. State law now directs the state Board of Education to handle charter school appeals.

Under Lee’s proposed bill, a nine-member commission would be in charge of such appeals. Commission members would be appointed by the governor and approved by the Legislature. At least five members must come from school districts with charter schools.

“By creating this commission, we are focused on making sure Tennessee has the best charter schools in the entire country,” said Rep. Mark White, a Republican from Memphis and sponsor the legislation.

Lee has said the bill is needed to make it easier to open high-quality charter schools and shutter poor performing ones. Yet critics have raised concerns that the commission would be stacked with charter school advocates and raise the number of charter schools throughout the state.

Currently, appeals to the state Board of Education are rarely successful. When they are, the charter schools have the option to operate under the state rather than local school board. Just three charter schools are presently being managed by the state.

House members voted 61-37 on Wednesday. It must still pass the Senate.

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