Gov. Lee’s charter authorizer could reshape rural school districts—against local will

Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s bill to create a new government agency in charge of approving charter school appeals could reshape rural districts.

Under the law, the new charter school commission only exists to authorize charter school applications rejected by local school boards. The commission would also provide oversight as the school board for the charters it approves — if the charter operators and local school district did not agree to terms.

During a House Government Operations Committee meeting, Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, revealed, as a matter of practice, a charter school application has never been approved in a rural or suburban school district against the will of the local school board. If approved, Gov. Bill Lee’s charter commission may allow this to happen for the first time.

Will the charter commission go against local will?
The commission will consist of nine members—all hand picked by Gov. Lee. One of the first factor to be considered for commission membership is “experience and expertise in charter schools or charter school authorizing.”

According to Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, it’s possible the commission will approve charters without know the full local impact based on the state’s record.

“The one thing that I do like about this bill is the fact that now everybody gets a taste of the charter medicine across the state,” Parkinson said during the House Education Committee meeting. “So you get a charter, and you get a charter, and you get a charter. [Rep.] Debra Moody, you get a charter. Everybody gets an opportunity to feel what we’ve been feeling in Shelby County.”

How they voted:
House Government Operations, March 25:
Representatives voting in support of the charter commission bill:
Rep. Martin Daniel, R-Knoxville, District 18
Rep. Iris Rudder, R-Winchester, District 39
Rep. Kent Calfee, R-Kingston, District 32
Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, District 16
Rep. Curtis Halford, R-Dyer, District 79
Rep. Dan Howell, R-Cleveland, District 22
Rep. Justin Lafferty, R-Knoxville, District 89
Rep. William Lamberth, R-Portland, District 44
Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, District 33
Rep. Jay Reedy, R-Erin, District 74
Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, District 33
Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, District 25
Rep. Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville, District 42

Representatives voting against the bill:
Rep. Karen Camper, D-Memphis, District 87
Rep. G. A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, District 93
Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, District 52