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Great Hearts Charter Rejection Costly

“Nashville schools to lose $3M over rejection of Great Hearts”
by Nate Rau
The Tennessean
September 18, 2012

The Tennessee Department of Education plans to give the $3.4 million it is withholding from Metro Nashville public schools to other school districts, according to a statement released this morning.

The money is being withheld “as a consequence of the district’s refusal to follow state law,” the release said. The department is punishing the Metro school board because of the board’s refusal to approve the controversial Great Hearts Academies charter school even after directed to do so by the State Board of Education.

The money represents administrative non-classroom funds and will be withheld from Metro’s October allocation from the state’s Basic Education Program funding program.

“We were all hopeful that Metro Nashville’s school board would obey the law and avoid this situation,” said Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. “It is our job to enforce state law, and we have no choice but to take this action.”

When the Metro board voted last month to defer a decision on Great Hearts even after the state board directive, state official first indicated funds could be withheld as punishment, but then backed off that idea after Gov. Bill Haslem said he thought the conflict could be settled without monetary sanctions.

The Metro school board had several chances to comply with state law, Speaker of the House Beth Harwell said in the statement. “The Metro Nashville school board had two chances to follow the law, and twice it chose to not do so. This is the consequence,” she added.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey agreed, saying he supported the decision to uphold the law.

“The Metro Nashville school board’s brazen defiance of state law limited options for thousands of Nashville parents and their children,” Ramsey said in the statement. “The rule of law is not optional in Tennessee. Those who break it must be held accountable.”

Updated 8:30 a.m.

The Tennessee Department of Education formally announced its decision this morning to withhold about $3.4M from the Metro Nashville school board because of the board’s refusal to approve the controversial Great Hearts Academies charter school.

The state is withholding a portion of the school system’s October administrative funds, according to a statement released by the department of education at about 8:30 a.m. today.

We were all hopeful that Metro Nashville’s school board would obey the law and avoid this situation,” said Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. “It is our job to enforce state law, and we have no choice but to take this action.”

The department intends to reallocate the funds to other districts in Tennessee using the state funding formula.

REPORTED EARLIER

The Tennessee Department of Education is expected to announce as early as today that it will withhold more than $3 million in education funds from Metro Nashville Public Schools in response to the board’s decision last week to reject the Great Hearts Academy charter school application.

The withheld money will come from the Basic Education Program formula, which the department uses to send state dollars to local public schools. The Nashville school board voted 5-4 last week to reject Great Hearts’ application, despite a directive from the state board that the application must be approved.

Great Hearts subsequently said it was withdrawing its application, but the department has elected to take action against MNPS.

“I certainly understand why,’’ Speaker of the House Beth Harwell said, calling the board’s decision a violation of the state law. “Our number one concern is (the board’s vote) harms children.

“This is a way to send a very clear message” to the school system.

The withheld funds are earmarked for school district administrative costs and will not have an impact on classrooms, according to multiple sources.

Department of Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said in August that such a move by the state was possible, after the school board deferred a vote on the Great Hearts application.

Great Hearts has been at the center of controversy in Nashville this year. Though the charter chain had the support of leaders such as Huffman, Harwell and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, among others, it was criticized by some school board members and community residents for lacking a recruitment plan that would encourage diversity among its students.

The Arizona-based charter chain sought to open a new school in West Nashville in 2014. It was the first prospective charter operator to test the new state law that opened up charter school enrollment to all students. Previously charter schools, which are publicly financed but privately operated, were options for poor students and those zoned for a failing school.

In a news release, Great Hearts hinted that it may reapply to open a charter “when Tennessee’s laws and charter approval process more effectively provide for open enrollment, broad service to the community and impartial authorizers.”