Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Harwell's Charter Authorizer Bill Clears Committee; Dems Call New State Board 'Death Panel for Public Schools'

Posted By on Tue, Mar 5, 2013 at 1:52 PM

Rep. Bill Dunn clowns around with kids before the committee gets down to business and lets school boards know whos running the show around here.
  • Rep. Bill Dunn clowns around with kids before the committee gets down to business and lets school boards know who's running the show around here.
With surprisingly little debate, the House Education Committee just passed Speaker Beth Harwell’s charter school authorizer bill. The committee wasted an hour listening to little children read Dr. Seuss and to various other pointless presentations, then hurriedly rammed through Harwell’s bill with chairman Harry Brooks cracking the whip on Democrats trying to raise questions.

Among the most pressing of these is whether the bill will poke holes in school budgets by forcing taxpayers to fund more charter schools than they can afford. The Metro school board learned yesterday the city needs an extra $15 million for already approved charter schools. Harwell’s bill sets up a new state appeals board to authorize charters all over the state even if the local education agencies are against it.

Rep. Ron Lollar, R-Bartlett, accurately described the legislation as “basically telling the LEAs they’ve got to accept what we want or else.” The vote was 9-3.

Afterward, House Democratic Caucus chairman Mike Turner pulled a page from Sarah Palin's playbook, calling the new state appeals board "a death panel for public schools."

"Charter schools are not a panacea," he said. "We’re just writing them a blank check here and saying take our school systems over. They’re going to resegregate our schools. You wait and see. That concerns us. There are some people for charter schools who mean well. There are some other people on the charter school side who are driven by profit, driven by political motivations. That’s what concerns me. and they’re all allied together opposed to the public schools and the public schools are going to get the shaft."

More from the committee meeting:

“There’s a real danger to our taxpayers that we might end up with a tax increase,” school board member Amy Frogge said after Brooks gave her “no more than one minute” to address the committee. “This is about local control and it is about the fiscal impact of this bill.”

Rep. Joe Pitts, D-Clarksville, said Republicans are giving Harwell's new state panel “a blank check written on the LEAs’ account.”

Rep. John Fogerty, R-Athens, was the only Republican to voice any misgivings.

“It is still my quite humble opinion that education decisions should be relegated to those boards of education in the state of Tennessee that are elected to make those decisions good or bad,” he said. “If they are amenable to approving charters, so be it. But a statewide charter authorizer, in my opinion, circumvents the authority of those local boards of education. With that, Chairman Brooks, I’ll hush.”

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