This time, Harwell did away with her new state authorizer board and decided again that appeals of charter school applications should go to the state Board of Education like they do now.
That was a concession on her part to win votes. It’s too bad for charter school companies, since the appointees on the new state board in the bill’s previous incarnation almost certainly would have been pushovers and would have let charters pop up willy-nilly all over the state.
This evening, the bill’s advocates persisted in their fiction that all they’re trying to do is help low-income students in failing schools. That’s why they say they’ve made the bill apply only to Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville, Chattanooga and Hardeman County, the places in the state where there is at least one failing school.
The bill’s sponsors say we can’t trust school boards in these counties to approve all the charter schools that want to set up shop, so we need a strong appeals process to override their wrong decisions.
But senators led by Nashville's Douglas Henry pointed out the bill allows charter schools to go anywhere in these counties, even many miles away from any failing school. They tried to amend the bill to say that charter schools approved on appeal are restricted to places accessible to students attending failing schools.
“If you put a charter school down the street from my house,” said Henry, who lives in West Meade, “a fellow over on Jefferson Street is going to have a dickens of a time getting his children to that school. He can’t take advantage of it. Why don’t you want the law to say they have to think about whether it’s a real choice for the people or not?”
Sounds logical, right? But if the law did say that, then the bill wouldn’t do what it’s really supposed to do, which is paving the way for the Great Hearts charter school in West Nashville and potentially many more little mostly white charter schools in the wealthier suburbs of the state. Henry’s amendment failed on a voice vote.
Republican Sen. Dolores Gresham urged the committee to adopt a “different kind of paradigm for public education,” and the bill now is headed to the Senate floor. The full House could vote tomorrow.
CORRECTION, 4/18: Sen. Douglas Henry resides in West Meade, not Belle Meade. We apologize for the error.