Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Harwell Delays Charter Schools Bill; Is Compromise in the Works?

Posted By on Tue, Feb 19, 2013 at 1:51 PM

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  • Tennessee Report
House Speaker Beth Harwell postponed today's vote on her bill to take away the Nashville school board’s authority over charter schools, and she says she’s willing to think about changing the proposal. It’s not known, though, whether she’s truly open to compromise or whether she’s merely trying to appear reasonable before sticking it to the school board in retaliation for denying Great Hearts Academies’ application last year.

“What we want to do is have the highest quality public charter schools available in this city and that's my goal and that's what we'll keep working on," the speaker told Pith in the Wind informant Andrea Zelinski in the hallway a few minutes ago.

"I'm not set on anything. All I want to do is give my mayor the tool he needs to recruit the best public charter schools for this city. So that's what we're discussing right now, how to go about doing that."

Democrats—who don’t know much of anything because they are kept in the dark about everything that matters here—say they’re hearing there’s a possible compromise. In this speculation, the state Board of Education would gain the authority to OK a charter school only after a school board denied the application a couple of times, and this process would apply statewide, not only in Nashville and Memphis as under Harwell’s bill now.

At today’s House Education Committee meeting, chairman Harry Brooks said Harwell’s bill will go on next week’s calendar. He said it was only a time issue that caused its delay today, so who knows if there’s a backroom deal in the works? Democrats are screaming about this bill to try to shame Harwell into backing down, but it's hard to imagine that she cares.

Brooks did let Chelle Baldwin, a Sylvan Park parent, speak against the bill. She said Republicans want to “experiment on” Nashville’s children like guinea pigs to see if free market forces will improve schools.

“This is not corporate America,” she said. “These are children who happen to be our future leaders and you cannot treat them like a business."

Update: Rep. Mark White, R-Germantown, confirmed there's talk of a compromise along the lines of what Democrats have heard. White, who's handling the bill for Harwell, said the legislature might create a new state panel to hear appeals from charter schools and render a final judgment if necessary. That process could apply statewide, he said.

Nashville and Memphis certainly will prefer this idea to Harwell's original proposal, but it might not go over so well with the rest of the state.

"We’re listening to all interested parties," White said. "We’re listening to everyone because everyone’s making some very good points because everyone’s interested in education. That’s why we’re not moving the bill very fast right now. We’re listening."

Update II: Joey Garrison thinks Harwell's pulling a fast one. "Start with the most drastic change, hear the uproar and then settle on the more politically palatable option," he tweets. Maybe this is Harwell's grand strategy. But if it is, she might wind up outsmarting herself. Who says the fallback position is so politically palatable? A lot of lawmakers will flinch at curtailing the authority of their school boards just to help Harwell mess with hers.

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