A new TN state law now allows charter schools to serve all students, not just low-income students in failing schools. The State of Tennessee must understand the long-term impact of charter schools set up to serve all communities, not just those at risk or failing. Metro Nashville Public School District (MNPS) witnessed the outcome of the State’s vision on charter schools during their fight against Great Hearts Academies–it is an example of how any elected TN school board could be punished for making a decision for their community that the appointed TN Board of Education does not agree with: MNPS was arbitrarily penalized $3.4 million dollars–denying schools, teachers, and students of necessary funding. Is this an example of how the proposed TN State Charter Authorizer would work? How much do we want the state to decide our local needs? In the case of Nashville, MNPS wanted charter schools to reflect the needs of the community and ensure all students have access to this new charter school. If diversity policy is not planned and transportation is not provided with these new “serve-all” charters, a new system of segregation will be set up–skimming the best students who can afford fees and provide their own transportation, leaving only the children unable to provide transportation, pay fees, or navigate the application process left in the zoned schools.
There are charters in other states that do not see a problem with this “new segregation”. This quote from the Nashville City Paper during the Great Hearts debate illustrates the potential:
“We have schools that land all over the map [in Phoenix],” Heiler [Great Hearts board President] says. “Some would be serving very middle-class folks by and large, we have one inner-city school that serves ethnic minority kids, and we have another one that would open that would be similar to that. In Tennessee it seems like there was more of a focus of bringing diversity into each school, whereas here we try to serve a diversity of communities.” [boldface added for emphasis]
The majority of Nashville’s school board members stood strong and decided this was not the type of charter school that would best serve the MNPS district. (They also expressed concern that the Great Hearts’ charter proposal did not meet the diversity contingencies included in the TN State BOE mandate to approve Great Hearts.) A district consisting of 75% free and reduced lunch would be little helped unless they were offered transportation and fee waivers. Great Hearts transportation proposal was weak at best–offering to transport students for only two years. Here is a quote from Ed Kindall, former MNPS School Board member, concerning great Hearts:
“What I worry about is that if there is [a charter school] that opens in an area that has a large population of middle- or middle-to-upper class parents, what is that school going to really look like?” MNPS school board member Ed Kindall told The City Paper in a Nov. 8 article. “I think if we don’t find a way to ensure that these are diverse schools — socioeconomically, racially, etc. — we’re going to deepen the isolation within our school system.”
Tennessee’s Commissioner of the Department of Education, Kevin Huffman, is quoted in his own 1998 New York University Law Review saying:
“Opponents of charter school reform believe that loose regulation will allow charter schools to siphon the wealthiest and best-educated families from traditional public schools. These opponents fear that traditional neighborhood schools will deteriorate and that the charter school movement will disproportionately burden lower classes and children of color…Implemented on a large scale, charter schools have the potential to tilt school choice, leaving children of poor and ill-informed parents behind, consigned to suffering the deterioration of neighborhood schools.”
If this loose regulation is possible, how do we ensure that school resegregation will not happen? If even Commissioner Huffman himself recognizes this potential inequity, then why didn’t the state of Tennessee do more to require Great Hearts to provide transportation and insure access to a diverse population? The MNPS school board feared the outcome of a Great Hearts arrival would not serve the best interests of the district and they believed that the Great Hearts application did not meet the diversity contingencies set forth in the State BOE mandate, so they decided that they could not accept the Great Hearts charter. (The Nashville board wanted to ensure equal access by providing transportation and a location that could serve a diverse population.) Local school boards are elected to determine local educational needs. If the Charter Authorizer Law is put in place, the outcome for MNPS will be “new segregation”. What will the outcome be for your community school decisions? And if you do not agree with the State of Tennessee, what will your penalty be? Now is the time to stop the state charter authorizer and keep our community schools strong to better serve ALL children equally, and keep our decisions local. Please write your TN legislature and tell them how you feel about this issue.