At one of the largest annual gatherings of local education gurus in Nashville, Mayor Karl Dean took on Metro School’s message that charter schools put undue pressure on the system’s bottom line.
Dean’s address at the unveiling of the Nashville Chamber of Commerce’s 64-page Education Report Card (you can read the whole report here) took a stern tone as he called on the district to stop singling out charter schools, consider closing schools that are under-performing and spend money differently.
Here are three takeaways, after the jump:
Dean threw some punches
Long a charter school advocate, Dean criticized the district for turning a blind eye to the costs of students leaving their zoned schools for other choice schools at the same time it blames new and expanding charter schools for an estimated $23 million shortfall next year. “The conversation we need to be having is this: do we have enough quality choice?” he said. “Whether a family can afford other education avenues or not, we should have schools where parents want to send their children.” He also called for the district to take a hard look at whether it should keep spending money on under-performing schools, saying, “If a school’s not functioning right, then make changes and be relatively quick about it.”
Dean hit the district where it hurts — in the wallet
Hinting he wants to slow the flow of new dollars to the city’s school system, Dean called for the district to look inside itself to address its budget issues. “It’s time for us to closely scrutinize our spending on education,” he told the standing-room-only crowd. To reporters, he elaborated: “Stop doing things that aren’t working. Clearly you can’t look at the results and say that everything’s working perfectly, because it’s not.” Dean ruled out a future tax increase to help offset the costs of growing charter schools or the other programs district officials are talking about investing in, like expanding Pre-K to more families. “No department gets a blank check,” he said. “I don’t think the issue that we have in front of us with our schools is totally a resource issue… The question we should ask about every public dollar spent on education is, will this help our children learn? And if the answer is not yes, then we need to change course.”
Register takes high road, looks forward to audit results
The fact of the matter is that the district is growing, said Director of Schools Jesse Register, and a part of that growth is from charter schools. Not addressing Dean’s comments in his own speech after the mayor’s, Register told reporters the district’s growing population creates unique budget pressures for MNPS. If the district is seeing increases of up to 2,000 students a year, “The way I count it, that’s several new schools a year and I think we need to look at the fiscal impact of growth and that’s what we intend to do,” he said. Register added what he’s really waiting for are the result of a Metro-commissioned audit of the school district to examine the cost issue “because there are different points of view about impact of charter growth on a budget. It does have an impact,” he said.