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Tennessee’s charter school law is weak, group says

Tennessee’s charter school law has improved but still falls in the bottom third of national rankings released Tuesday by an advocacy group devoted to bolstering the charter sector.

Of 43 states with charter schools, Tennessee moved from 35th to 32nd in rankings from The Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Since 2010, the group has ranked charter laws based on their alignment with its model law requiring accountability for charter schools and allowing for their proliferation. Topping this year’s rankings are Minnesota and Louisiana, the latter of which encompasses a school district composed entirely of charters — a model for Tennessee’s Achievement School District, which operates schools in Memphis and Nashville.

The alliance recommends that Tennessee increase the number of possible authorizers — currently only local school boards can authorize charter schools, unless they appeal to the state Board of Education — and equalize funding between charters and traditional public schools. The report concludes:

Tennessee’s law needs improvement in several areas, including creating additional authorizing options in all of the state’s districts, providing adequate authorizer funding, ensuring authorizer accountability, beefing up the requirements for performance-based contracts and charter school oversight, and ensuring equitable operational funding and equitable access to capital funding and facilities.

Tennessee’s marginal boost in this year’s rankings is tied to a law passed last year by the Tennessee General Assembly allowing the state Board of Education to authorize schools in counties with the highest number of failing schools. Other bills addressing charter schools have come before the legislature, but have not passed. Many observers expect to see them again this session.

Although charter advocates push for more funding and access to facilities owned by traditional school districts, opponents say charter schools already siphon too much money from traditional public schools.

In October, the alliance released a report saying that, despite state charter laws labeled as weak by the group, Tennessee’s charter school sector is among the healthiest in the nation based on growth, academic outcomes and innovation.

You can read the full report on the alliance’s 2015 rankings here.

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