Like the rest of the nation, we’ve been watching the education train wreck playing out in Chicago and Philadelphia. We are holding our breath as similar scenarios loom for Tennessee cities like Memphis and Nashville.
Memphis is in the middle of a less than smooth merging of school districts with Shelby County, borne out of financial necessity as the Memphis district was facing a staggering budget shortfall. Now in Nashville, as the costs for charters is rapidly increasing and outpacing the available revenue, the supporters of charter expansion are using new buzzwords “high quality seat”. What seems to be following those buzzwords is usually something along the lines of “closing down schools” to make room for the charters that will provide the yet to be defined “HQ seat”.
As we hear these “reformers” nonchalantly toss around the idea of closing our public schools, a few questions come to mind. If you share our concern for all the students in Nashville who are at the center of the current storm, you might also want to hear these “reformers” answer the following questions:
- What is the 10 year plan for large urban districts like Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville? What does that plan look like for suburban and rural districts?
- What will the ratio of charter and traditional schools be in urban, suburban, and rural districts?
- What metrics will be used to determine which traditional schools are closed? Shouldn’t we hear from the families and communities that would be affected by such closures?
- When a child’s zoned school is closed, what are the options for a parent who does not want their child to attend a nearby charter school with extended hours and/or school on weekends? Where will those students go and how will they get there?
- How will districts pay for increased costs for busing students as neighborhood schools close?
- Currently, students who are English Language Learners or who are moderately to severely disabled are not served to any significant level at charter schools in TN. Where will they go to school if their zoned school is closed? Will such students, who require a higher level of investment, be isolated? Or will they be educated alongside their peers in charter schools, as they are now in traditional schools?
- If a child is counseled out or forced out of a charter, what options do they have if their zoned school is closed?
These are some of the many questions that must be answered by those that believe, and have stated, that we need to start closing existing schools to finance charter schools. The education of our children can not be based on a blithe assumption that “market forces” will sort everything out. The voters and families of this town have the right to decide whether the “reform” vision is the one we want. Tennesseans, especially those in Nashville, need a truthful picture with specifics of what that vision is before that decision is meaningful or even possible. If you come across anyone that is willing to answer these questions please send us their responses.
This is more than just about money. It is about planning for the district’s future. If you believe Nashville needs to answer these questions before approving any more charters please call your city council rep.