Legislation allowing charter school operators to set up in any Tennessee county without local school board approval advanced through a House subcommittee Wednesday, March 13.

The proposal, House Bill 940 sponsored by Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, District 83, would create a new state-run charter school commission with the authority to skip any approval from local education officials.

The bill passed the House Curriculum, Testing & Innovation Subcommittee on a voice vote—though Rep. Tom Leatherwood, R-Arlington, District 99 and Rep. Vincent Dixie, D-Nashville, District 54 said they did not support the bill.

Charter schools are funded by state and local tax payers but operate independently, picking their own curriculum and managing their own budgets.

The bill is part of Gov. Bill Lee’s legislative agenda and would represent a radical shift in public education policy in Tennessee.

Though charter schools were introduced to Tennessee in 2004 as laboratories of education innovation, according to a report by the Tennessee Department of Education, broadly, charter schools perform as well as district-run schools.

In the 2018 report, students at Tennessee’s charter schools under performed district-run schools on end-of-course exams.

Lack of oversight
As lawmakers consider a rapid expansion of charter schools, the collapse of New Vision Academy, a charter school heralded by charter advocates, is still unfolding in Nashville.

According to The Tennessean, the New Vision Academy’s executive director Tim Malone paid himself $312,971 in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2017. His wife, LaKesha Malon, New Vision’s second highest ranking executive, earned $250,000 during that same period. Their combined salary — over $562,000 annually — would put them in the upper 5 percent of income earners in the United States.

Teachers at the school, who were subsequently fired, also complained to officials that New Vision Academy charter school failed to comply with federal laws regarding English-learning students and students with learning disabilities.

But it wasn’t education officials who ultimately shut down New Vision Academy—it was the state fire marshal that the school had been cramming 18 to 20 students into classrooms meant for eight to 10 students.

How they voted:
House Curriculum, Testing & Innovation Subcommittee approved HB 940 on a voice vote. Members of the committee:
Rep. Debra Moody, R-Covington, District 81
Rep. Charlie Baum, R-Murfreesboro, District 37
Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, District 16
Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, District 83
Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, District 90

Representatives who said they did not support the current bill:
Rep. Tom Leatherwood, R-Arlington, District 99
Rep. Vincent Dixie, D-Nashville, District 54