A Nashville-based public education advocacy group is urging the Tennessee Board of Education to reject appeals from national charter organizations seeking to expand in Nashville — and criticizing the board’s role in charter authorizations in the first place.
Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence sent a letter Monday to B. Fielding Rolston, chairman of the State Board of Education, in advance of the panel’s vote scheduled for Friday in Memphis. The board will consider appeals by KIPP, Rocketship and other charter operators whose applications were rejected over the summer by the school board for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools.
Approving the appeals would amount to “usurping our local school board on the question of what new schools to open and fund in Nashville,” writes Lyn Hoyt, a Nashville parent and president of the voluntary advocacy organization known as TREE.
“This decision brings into focus the critical dangers of the state charter authorizer process,” Hoyt writes. “A decision on opening new schools in Nashville will be made in a room over 200 miles from the affected community. Of the people making the voting decision, only two out of nine live in Nashville. Seven votes on the panel will never have their children’s schools, their local tax dollars, or their community impacted in any way.”
Hoyt urges the board to uphold local control of public schools and respect the Nashville board’s decision to reject applications from Rocketship and KIPP.
Nashville was likely an inspiration for the state board’s role of authorizer. In 2012, the local board rejected an application from the an Arizona-based charter management organization to open a school in an upper-income neighborhood. The board turned down the application even after the Tennessee Department of Education signaled that the application was strong, leading to a $3 million fine.
Even so, since the State Board became an authorizer in 2014, it’s upheld local decisions on all accounts. Most appeals have been from relatively new operators — not more established groups such as KIPP, which was founded in 1994, and Rocketship, founded in 2006.
Nashville’s board rejected Rocketship’s application because its overall academic performance last year was poor, according to board members. Rocketship opened its second Nashville school this fall.
KIPP’s application to open two more Nashville schools was rejected because KIPP leaders asked to open the schools anytime within the next five years, which Nashville officials said was too far in the future to reasonably decide.
The State Board of Education also will vote Friday on appeals by the International Academy of Excellence in Nashville and Connections Preparatory Academy in Jackson.