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Nashville Charter On Hold

“Great Hearts school ends charter bid in Nashville”
by Lisa Fingeroot
The Tennessean
September 13, 2012

Great Hearts Academies’ decision to pull out of Tennessee until state law creates an impartial charter school approval process is setting the stage for a legislative battle over who will grant approvals in the future.

After the Metro Nashville school board denied a charter to Great Hearts for the third time, the Arizona-based charter school company released a statement Wednesday saying it was withdrawing from the state.

However, Great Hearts said it might apply for a charter “when Tennessee’s laws and charter approval process more effectively provide for open enrollment, broad service to the community and impartial authorizers.”

The idea of creating a state agency to grant charters has been discussed in Tennessee and elsewhere. The Tennessee Charter School Association is researching methods used in other states to take politics out of the conversation.

“Every application should not be a brand-new political discussion,” said Matt Throckmorton, association executive director. “It is the children of Nashville that lose out to adult problems, again.”

Throckmorton called the state charter school law “flawed” and hopes to find a system that will allow charter applicants to work with local boards of education during the application process, but will not allow politics to affect the decision. That model will probably find its way into the association’s legislative agenda for January, he said.

“We are going to have charter schools — the law has been written,” he said.

Metro Nashville board members don’t consider their decisions to deny a charter to Great Hearts three times to be political. They have said the main issue was whether the school would cater to an affluent, largely white population or work to create a more diverse student body by providing transportation to students from other areas of the city.

Great Hearts, on the other hand, believes politics was the deciding issue because it claims to have a diversity plan that meets or exceeds Metro’s own plan.

Great Hearts accused the Metro school board of violating the law in its denial of a charter and said “we are hopeful that the state will take action so that, in the future, Great Hearts can reapply to a different, impartial charter authorizer.”

The school board’s vote on Tuesday defied an order by the state Board of Education directing that the charter application be approved. Great Hearts had appealed to the state after being denied twice by Metro.

Great Hearts said the “hostile” nature of the school board would make a successful school opening impossible even if a charter were granted at this point.

Mayor Karl Dean, a charter schools supporter, described the decision as “a sad day for the children of Nashville who would have benefited from the high-quality education Great Hearts was ready to offer.”

Local control
Newly installed Metro school board members Amy Frogge and Jill Speering voted differently on Great Hearts — Speering in favor and Frogge against — but both said they oppose removing charter school decisions from local school boards.

A new charter-approval group would be answerable to the person who appointed the members, and that would create a new political agenda, they said.

“I am concerned about the idea that this might become a state issue,” Frogge said. “We need to keep it local. We have the best perspective on how a school might impact a community.”

Speering wants parents to make their wishes known before the legislative session begins in January. She voted in favor of Great Hearts because “we don’t have a clear diversity plan,” she said. “Because of that, we are partly at fault that there are misunderstandings between us.”

She and other board members hope to create a formal diversity plan that can be viewed by charter applicants in advance so they know what Metro officials are looking for in a new charter school.

Schools spokeswoman Meredith Libbey said the district “will learn from this experience,” adding, “It is important that we work collaboratively and set a clear vision and mutually understood expectations.”

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