Selected readings on US charter schools
The Metro school board approved a plan Tuesday night effectively restricting the authorization of new charter schools next year to South Nashville or to schools tagged for three straight years of poor performance.
The resolution approved by the board requires all new charter schools to be located either within areas where schools are above 120 percent of capacity or in an existing school that spent three years under scrutiny as a “target” school.
“The board is clearly interested with focusing on developing a more thoughtful and strategic approach to how the district deploys charters in the future,” said Will Pinkston, the board member who sponsored the resolution. “Academic improvement is absolutely our top priority, but doing it in a way that’s fiscally sustainable for the system as a whole is important.”
The plan, approved 7-1 on Tuesday night, would restrict new charters to the geographic areas around overcrowded schools. Those include Glenview and Paragon Mills elementary school in the Glencliff High School cluster and neighborhoods near Tusculum, Haywood and Shayne elementary schools off Nolensville Pike.
“There are literally some areas in the county where we cannot build schools fast enough, and there’s extreme overcrowding happening,” Pinkston said before the vote. “That’s an opportunity to make creative use of the capacity that charters can add to the system.”
Elissa Kim, the District 5 member who cast the lone dissenting vote, said prioritization should lie solely with charters’ ability to provide academic solutions for students — not with issues such as capacity.
“The simple fact remains that four of the top 11 schools right now would not exist under this resolution,” Kim said. “For me, that’s just a point of common sense to consider that fact and press pause. Is that really what we’re trying to do?”
Charter backers, who have seen the number of charters in Nashville rise to 21 from just a handful a few years ago, oppose the proposed restrictions. Mayor Karl Dean, an outspoken charter proponent, told The Tennessean that the plan concerns him, in part because some of the city’s highest-performing schools are charters.
“The idea of charter schools is not just to fill capacity — it’s to improve the education system and to offer an opportunity for people to get the education that they deserve,” he said.
The Tennessee Charter School Center said in a prepared statement that it has misgivings because it supports a sustainable plan to increase school choice for families: “In light of this, we are deeply concerned about a resolution being introduced and brought to a last-minute vote this evening that would set arbitrary restrictions on high-quality choices for Nashville families.”
The vast majority of Nashville charters are in East and North Nashville. Pinkston and Metro Director of Schools Jesse Register have pointed to the correlation between the rise of charters in these areas and the dwindling enrollments at traditional public schools near them, particularly in the Maplewood and Stratford high clusters.
Increasingly, the board has pinned the blame on new charters for a projected $23 million budget shortfall for the next fiscal year — a figure that Kim disputed. Closing some of these under-filled schools is a possibility to free up funds, district officials have said.
King expansion OK’d
At the meeting, the school board also unanimously approved the expansion of Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Magnet School pending capital funding. The plan would allow a new cafeteria and dining area plus 12 new classrooms to be built on the site of the school’s current soccer field.
It also tightens the pipeline used by Head Magnet Middle School students to qualify automatically to enter MLK. Under the plan, only rising seventh- and ninth-graders would be eligible to move directly from Head to MLK, eliminating the eight-grade option now in place.
Board members also approved using $4.3 million in the district’s fund balance to offer a buyout plan to MNPS faculty and staff with more than 30 years of experience. The plan would offer $700 per year of experience to an estimated 269 employees.
Source: The Tennessean – by Brian Wilson