NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – A GOP charter school bill in front of a House education subcommittee Tuesday could set the stage to make the creation and expansion of charter schools in Tennessee easier. It’s part of Gov. Bill Lee’s plan to reshape public education in Tennessee, but it’s leaving some wondering what the motive is.
The Republican-led bill could cut out local school board decisions regarding whether a charter school could come to their school district. And changing the state’s school funding formula is gaining steam on Capitol Hill.
“One way or the other we’re going to be discussing education funding this year, and specifically as I’ve said before, how we ensure Tennessee has great schools, not just good schools,” said Rep. William Lamberth (R-Portland).
Lee is banking on charter schools to be a part of his plan to change public schools. Lawmakers are moving forward with potential changes to how charter schools are placed in districts.
“Educators and people who care about public education have been concerned about the direction Tennessee is headed toward privatizing education and this is a massive step in that direction,” said Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville).
A bill will be heard in the House Education Instruction Subcommittee by Republican Memphis Rep. Mark White Tuesday makes it easier for charter schools to obtain authorization.
“They’re draining millions of public tax dollars to go into these charter schools but they haven’t produced any of the things that they say they would produce and they’re not performing better than their public school peers,” said Johnson, who is a former school teacher.
Democrats are opposed to HB-2833. Under current law, charters must be approved by local school boards. The new bill empowers the state charter commission to overrule local decisions. It also gives charter schools the ability to appeal or directly apply to the charter commission.
“Charter schools cherry-pick the kids that they take our traditional public schools to take every child in the district, they can’t refuse because of a disability, they can’t refuse because a child’s been in trouble any of those things,” Johnsons said.
Lee has directed millions in his proposed budget to go towards charter schools and their construction.
Democrats who are opposed to the charter proposals say it’s not what Tennesseans want.
“They’re going to keep calling it public education but that doesn’t make it so, in every bill they bring, every step they make is pushing it closer and closer to our public tax dollars going to private corporations which is not what Tennessee families want,” Johnson said.
Tennessee underfunds public schools by nearly $2 billion a year. Sen. John Stevens, a Republican, who is carrying the Senate version of the bill declined an interview.
Rep. Mark White, carrying the House version, did not respond to our requests for an interview.