STATEWIDE CHARTER AUTHORIZATION BOARD: Gov. Lee’s Attack On Public Schools Continues

State Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) and State Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis) are carrying SB 796 and HB 940, a signature piece of Gov. Bill Lee’s K-12 education initiative which would create a statewide charter authorizer board, allowing charter schools to completely bypass the local school board and the wishes of the actual parents, and instead go straight to a state board for approval.

The legislation would set up a nine-member board appointed by the governor, with confirmation by the House and Senate, to run what would become a statewide charter school district.

From The Daily Memphian:

“White didn’t want to use the word ‘bypass’ but acknowledged the legislation would remove the step for charter applicants to go to the Tennessee Board of Education if turned down by local boards.”

Charter schools are essentially private schools which take public school dollars away from brick and mortar public schools. Many are fly-by-night operations that take as much public money as they can and then disappear.

In the past week, New Vision Academy closed down in Davidson County because of problems with building fire codes. According to reports, a federal investigation also is being conducted into its operators.

This bill would mean charter schools like New Vision could be approved by a board that doesn’t even live in an area, leading to money for those kids being steered away from that area’s public schools – including in rural areas of TN which already barely have enough money to fully fund their existing public school systems.

Cheatham, Claiborne, Robertson, and Williamson County school boards – as well as McMinville schools – have all received letters of intent from charter schools this year. (As a reminder, Williamson County has been assured by their legislators they won’t have vouchers and charter schools… but what if the state charter authorizer disagrees?)

Just like with Lee’s “Education Savings Accounts” (aka “SCHOOL VOUCHERS”), the winners with this bill are private, for-profit charter schools.

Governor Lee’s attack on our Public Schools continues.

Whatever your position on Charters, most people agree local school boards know the needs of their districts better than the state. This appears to be another instance of the governor/Tennessee Republicans saying they prefer local control and “small government” only when it’s convenient.

State Rep. Antonio Parkinson, a Memphis Democrat who serves on the House Education Committee, pointed that out, calling the legislation a bad idea:

“I think you’re totally negating an entire elected board by the people that was put in place to make those decisions. It’s unfortunate because in most cases we hear our colleagues from the other side of the aisle saying they want smaller government. But this is not smaller government when you’re adding more bureaucracy and more heavy-handedness from the state in regards to local government.”

Senator Kelsey had this to say on behalf of Lee:

“The governor believes we should have an authority in Tennessee that’s dedicated toward approving or disapproving our charter schools to ensure that we have quality charter schools in the state. I’m honored to be able to carry the legislation for him.”

The bill is expected to draw immediate opposition, but it just passed a House Education subcommittee.

Rep. Jason Hodges (D-Clarksville) strongly opposes the legislation, telling The Holler it’s being pushed by groups who are unhappy with the public schools in their own area, but would affect schools everywhere – even areas like Montgomery County which are proud of their schools:

“Just because someone’s unhappy with the schools in their district doesn’t mean they need to take steps to destroy the schools in my district or other districts. The bill wouldn’t just affect their communities, it affects all communities. Charters may not be in Montgomery County yet, but if this happens they’ll be there soon destroying our public school system. No thank you.”

Many others disagree as well.

Jim Wrye, chief lobbyist for Tennessee Education Assocation:

Allan Creasy, who recently ran for state house in the Memphis area:

Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville):

If you agree, holler at Governor Lee HERE, Senator Kelsey HERE, and Rep. White HERE.

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