There is evidence, however, that citizens in Tennessee and elsewhere are coming to understand the economic and human costs of turning corporate America loose on their children to educate. Work hard, be nice, indeed. Recently the Blount County School Board unanimously rejected the county's first suburban charter school after 7 months of consideration and a final 5 hour meeting on August 2:
The greatest concerns were related to finance. Troy Logan, the system’s fiscal administrator, questioned how the district could absorb the cost of shifting funds to the HOPE Academy.Despite the unanimous vote and lengthy deliberations, Republican State Treasurer, David Lillard, summarily concluded that the Board was wrong and there would be no million dollar loss of funds. Just like that. And so tomorrow at 10:30 AM, the State Board of Education will make the final determination on whether to support the local decisions by publicly elected officials in Blount County or to toe the new line drawn by the corporate ed reform establishment headed by Michelle Rhee's ex, Kevin Huffman, down in Nashville.
“The system is going to lose revenue, and the board will have to make cuts based on all things being equal,” Logan said. “However, the children won’t come from one school or classroom.”
“We could lose close to $1 million,” said board member Brad Long in the meeting. “We’d be affecting 11,000 students and benefiting 180 students. Money is my issue. I’m not willing to affect 11,000 students for 180 students.”
Meanwhile, an even larger decision awaits Mr. Lillard, as the city and county school boards in Memphis and Shelby County have rejected 17 new segregated charter applications that would drain $26 million from severely-underfunded public schools.
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The Memphis story from the Daily News:
As the Thanksgiving holiday weekend began, the countywide school board had put the two public school systems’ long-held ambivalence about charter schools on a fast track to Nashville.
The board on Tuesday, Nov. 22, denied the applications of 17 charter schools for Shelby County’s two public school systems claiming the fiscal impact of the schools would be too much of a financial hardship on each system – city and county.
The financial hardship exception is a part of state law that requires each school system to cite specific numbers in terms of student enrollment impact as well as specific dollar figures. The Tennessee treasurer is the arbiter of whether there is a financial hardship the state will recognize.
Memphis City Schools superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash told the board the possibility of 14 new charter schools in a city system that already has 25 with two more starting next year would be too much for a system with charter school growth of one to three per year.
He said it is “glaringly clear that Memphis City Schools cannot now and in the future withstand the financial impact to the district that this many charter schools approved would have on the district.”
Cash estimated the fiscal impact on the MCS budget at $26 million that would have to be shifted from other areas.
Deputy superintendent Irving Hamer described the charter schools as an “unfunded mandate” from state government.
“We actually have never been able to afford it,” he added. “It will compromise the integrity of the operation of Memphis City Schools.”
Shelby County Schools officials had taken an even harder line on charter schools saying they didn’t fit the philosophy of the system. After the old county school board rejected a charter school application last year, the applicant appealed to the state. Tennessee education officials ordered the board to approve the charter school – the first and only in the system.
SCS officials will claim in their application that the two additional charter schools would have an impact of $3.5 million when added with the existing charter school.
The voice vote by the board governing the two still separate school systems was not unanimous but appeared to be well past the 12-vote majority needed.
Some board members said the bid for financial hardship materialized too quickly for them to vote based on a presentation the same night. Board member Vanecia Kimbrow said the proof was not adequate and she could not support the denial of charter schools that otherwise met benchmarks in the application process.
“They only leave our system when they have no other options,” Kimbrow said of parents who choose charter schools. “It is not my job to take that option or that choice away from anyone.”
Board member Jeff Warren, however, said the schools are a financial drain on conventional public schools that still must remain open and run buses even with the estimated 4,545 students Cash’s staff estimates would transfer out of those schools and among charter schools. That’s in a school system with 106,000 students kindergarten through 12th grade.
“We are locally dealing with a national political issue,” Warren argued. “We have legislators in Nashville that are being influenced by a national agenda that says charter schools are the way to go. I think as a local board we need to say … not now and not for Memphis.” . . . .