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A classroom with green walls and empty desks.

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Lagging enrollment fuels Tennessee charter schools’ push for student contact data

The latest enrollment numbers from state-run charter schools help to explain why they’re battling for information about prospective students in Nashville and especially Memphis, where under-enrollment is a citywide challenge.

A Chalkbeat analysis shows that 21 schools in Tennessee’s 32-school Achievement School District have lost enrollment from last year, based on ASD data from the 20th day of this school year.

ASD charter operators say they rely on student contact information to send postcards and make calls to families in their neighborhood zones.

“Families come to us regularly throughout the school year and say that they thought our school was closed. They didn’t know we were an option,” said Megan Quaile, executive director of Green Dot Tennessee.

In Memphis, Green Dot requested student contact information in July, but Shelby County Schools refused to comply. The response contributed to a dispute between the state and its two largest traditional districts over whether they are legally required to hand over that information under Tennessee’s new charter school law. In Nashville, LEAD has made a similar request of Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. School board members in both cities argue that using student information for recruitment goes against the intent of the state law.

California-based Green Dot operates four ASD schools in Memphis, all of which are under-enrolled and saw their enrollment dip this year.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has ordered both districts to comply with requests from Green Dot and LEAD by Sept. 25, or face consequences that could include a loss of funding.

McQueen cited this week’s opinion by the state attorney general that sided with the charter schools and stated that information-sharing doesn’t violate a federal student privacy law. School boards in both Memphis have argued they had the right under the federal law to restrict who gets the information and for what reasons.

The ASD isn’t the only school system struggling with under-enrollment in Memphis, where the population declined by 1.7 percent from 2015 to 2016. Shelby County Schools has closed at least 21 schools since 2012, citing in part too many buildings and too few students in an increasingly competitive education landscape.

The chart below shows enrollment so far this year, compared to November of the previous year.

ASD enrollment

SCHOOL2016 ENROLLMENT2017 ENROLLMENTCHANGE
Cornerstone Prep-Lester756368-51.3
Raleigh Egypt Middle205100-51.2
Corning Achievement224138-38.4
Hanley Middle/Elementary*820742-10.5
Frayser Achievement296207-30.1
Georgian Hills Achievement324258-20.4
Humes Middle315252-20.0
Wooddale Middle473382-19.2
Westside Achievement339279-17.7
Pathways Frayser234197-15.8
Coleman Middle/Elementary*5485744.5
Grad Academy Memphis536468-12.7
Whitney Achievement376336-10.6
MLK College Prep625564-9.8
Fairley High565515-8.8
Cornerstone Prep-Denver616566-8.1
MSFK271254-6.3
Kirby Middle407382-6.1
Hillcrest High483454-6.0
Brick Church College Prep338326-3.6
KIPP Memphis Achievement Elementary448445-0.7
Libertas School of Memphis220219-0.5
Freedom Prepatory Academy5675781.9
Pathways Whitehaven1831893.3
KIPP Memphis Prep. Elementary/Middle61169914.4
Caldwell Guthrie44751815.9
Spring Hill Elementary28135426.0
Neely’s Bend College Prep25544172.9
Lester Prep 205 N/A
 Partners Community Prep50 N/A

*Hanley and Coleman elementary also house middle school students. Their numbers reflect total enrollment for their buildings.