Although not all school board members like the idea, the Metro Nashville School Board will be home to five new charter schools next year.
The school board voted Tuesday to approve opening the schools in the fall of 2015. The green light means the district will be home to 24 charter schools that school year, up from 19 schools now.
Here’s what to take away from this year’s charter cycle so far:
1) Consternation over charter schools still looms, albeit among a small pack of members. Every vote to approve a charter school was met by at least one no-vote: Amy Frogge’s. The constant critic of charters schools at the national and local level said she’s largely worried about the cost of charter schools and the implication it has on the district’s budget. She vowed last year not to approve charter schools unless she was convinced the district could afford them, and voted against every application this year.
Board members originally planned to have a fiscal capacity model in front of them to help decide which charter schools to approve. But a delay and a change in deadline meant the board had to approve schools without one, which led School Board Member Will Pinkston to develop his own model. He used it to “throw down budget flags” by questioning whether the schools added capacity in the areas MNPS needed it the most.
The firebrand criticized and praised applications by how closely they stuck to the board’s policy dictating that new charter schools should alleviate overcrowding in South Nashville or takeover the city’s persistently low-performing schools. He ultimately led a failed charge against one school, Valor Collegiate, which plans to open a K-8 in the Glencliff cluster. In a 5-3 vote, the board agreed to open the school despite several board members arguing the school should start by opening kindergarten instead of fifth and sixth grade.
2) STRIVE is still in the running. Upon the recommendation of the district’s Office of Innovation — which grades charter applications and oversees the schools once approved — the board denied three proposals. They include the International Academy of Excellence, Tracey Darnell Agricultural Science & Technology, and STRIVE Academy.
The last is favored by the Tennessee Charter School Center, a group that has advocated for the application despite the proposal ignoring the board’s newly imposed guidelines focusing on population and conversions.
The application is viewed as a possible test case for testing the boundaries of the district’s new charter policy, and if denied, testing a new state law that would allow denied charter schools to turn to the state for approval — a law aimed at MNPS. STRIVE, and the other denied schools, have 30 days to revise their applications and resubmit them for a second consideration.
3) What will happen to the narrowed charter application focus next year? This was the first year the school board specifically asked for charter schools to limit their proposals to those helping manage the district’s overpopulation and turn around schools with low academic performance. Charter advocates pushed against the idea because it ties their hands to where they can locate and what kind of school they can run, limiting development of the kinds of charter schools that have put Nashville on the map. Advocates for the idea argue the policy focuses attention on the areas the district needs it most and limits charter growth to a more financially manageable size.
But that narrowed focus will expire after this year’s round of charter school approvals is finished, raising the question of whether the school board will look to renew, edit or do away with the policy altogether.
That decision will rest with the school board, a body that could see almost half of its membership turn over in this August's elections.
Schools approved for the 2015 school year
Rocketship (K-4) located in the Glencliff cluster
Valor Collegiate (K-8) located in the Glencliff cluster
One Conversion School
KIPP Academy (K-4) will be matched to a MNPS Target elementary school during the
fall of 2014 for conversion; formal management conversion scheduled for the fall of 2015.
Two High School Pathways from Existing Charter Schools
Knowledge Academy High School (9-12) for continuation of students when they enter 9th grade in the fall of 2015.
STEM Prep Academy High School (9-12) for continuation of students when they enter 9th grade in the fall of 2015.