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State senate passes bill allowing state to authorize charter schools rejected by local school boards

A bill that would allow the Tennessee State Board of Education to approve charter school applications rejected by local school boards passed in the state’s senate this morning.

The bill only applies to school districts that have schools labeled as failing by the state of Tennessee. Davidson, Hamilton, Hardeman, Knox and Shelby Counties would currently qualify, but the state will re-run its list of priority schools late this summer.

There are already two charter authorizers in the Shelby County: The district and the state-run Achievement School District, which can authorize charter schools to take over schools in the bottom five percent in the state. Both authorizers have approved charter schools to open new schools in Shelby County next year. The new bill would provide a recourse for charter operators rejected by either of those entities.

In Shelby County, some 10,000 students currently attend charter schools, but that number is expected to continue to increase dramatically as existing schools add grades.

Adding a new authorizer to the mix presents some challenges for oversight, according to Katrina Bulkley, a professor of education leadership at Montclair State University in New Jersey. “People want to have legislation that allows more high-quality charters to open, but there’s a tension between that and the idea of portfolio management [in which high-quality schools thrive and low-performing schools are closed or improved]…which presumes there’s some entity that’s in a position to manage school quality.”

The Nashville Post has brief primer on Senate Bill 830 here. The bill was prompted by controversy over the Great Hearts charter school, whose application was rejected by the Metro Nashville school board in 2012.

The Tennessean has more on the debate over the charter authorizer bill and the lay of the land in Nashville.

The bill heads next to the state’s House of Representatives. Here is the bill’s full text.

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