Charter Pulse

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TENNESSEE: Charter schools must grow wisely

education-prioritiesBy a 7-to-1 vote, the Metro Board of Education has established strategic priorities for approving charter schools in 2014. These priorities offer common-sense guidelines for Metro Nashville Public Schools to consider quality charters while advancing academic achievement in a way that doesn’t undermine the progress we’re making in other schools.

The board established priorities in response to requests from educators, parents and community leaders. MNPS believes students and families deserve school choice and that charter schools — publicly funded entities operated by nonprofit organizations — add value when done well.

At the same time, we’re mindful of the very real short-term costs of opening too many new schools of any type. A report by Moody’s Investors Service notes that unchecked growth of charter schools poses “growing risks” to school systems. As state law requires, MNPS must make decisions in the “best interest” of the system as a whole and its 82,000 students.

Putting the situation in perspective: Four years ago, the entire state had 21 charter schools. Today, Nashville alone has 22 open or on the books. Since 2008, MNPS has seen a 1,261 percent increase in cash outlays for charters — an increase of 58 percent per year on average, compared with 4 percent annual growth in the system overall.

Anyone who understands business or government knows we can’t keep adding schools of any kind at that rate without significant new revenue or deep cuts. Indeed, the 2014-15 school year is the first time charter cash outlays are projected to eclipse available new revenue.

At this point, the conversation is about advancing academic improvement for all students, and striking a fiscally responsible balance between new and existing schools — not feeding one part of the system at the expense of the other. With this in mind, MNPS will consider charter applications in 2014 based on two priorities:

Conversion of low-performing schools. By inviting charter operators to partner in conversions, we can deploy charter capacity in a way that brings more change to more students — faster. Right now, charter operators try to reform the system 100 kids at a time. Yet the conversion of a single low-performing school could help more students, immediately, than four new charters combined. And it doesn’t cost taxpayers a dime beyond what we’re already spending.

New charters in exceedingly overcrowded areas. In some neighborhoods, we have schools projected to hit 160 percent capacity by fall 2017. That kind of extreme overcrowding is unacceptable, and charters can help manage growth. These particular areas also offer significant opportunities for charter operators to help close achievement gaps.

Even if MNPS approved no new charter schools, existing charters — mostly in North and East Nashville — will add more than 6,000 seats over the next five years. In other words, charter operators still have plenty of room to grow in those areas without adding more schools.

Finally, despite critics’ claims to the contrary, MNPS is heading in the right direction. The school system earned all A’s and B’s for student growth on the state report card and, with 9 percent of Tennessee’s public school students, MNPS is doing its part to help propel the state forward with steep gains on the Nation’s Report Card.

To be sure, plenty of work remains. Charters will continue to be part of the solution.

Source: Shreveporttimes.com – by Will Pinkston (Member of the Metropolitan Nashville Board of Public Education)

View more articles on Tennessee charter schools

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This entry was posted on November 27, 2013 by in Charter Schools, Tennessee and tagged .

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