State green-lights two charter schools denied by metro. Now what?

ByBlake Farmer

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The Tennessee Board of Education entered uncharted territory Friday morning, when it voted unanimously to open a pair of charter schools that had been denied by the Nashville school board in August.

The proposals from KIPP Nashville generated practically no debate by the state panel, which is appointed by Governor Bill Haslam. Members went along with a recommendation from executive director Sara Heyburn.

Charter schools denied by local boards in Tennessee have always been able to appeal to the state. But beginning last year, instead of just telling districts they have to change a decision, the state can oversee the charter itself.

Since it’s never been done before, Heyburn explained the next step to the board: a period of reconciliation.

“The sponsor and the district can choose for that school to go back to the district, but it must be a mutual decision,” she said. “It’s a 30-day window and our legal counsel will be working with Metro Nashville.”

The Metro school board could just go along with the state. That would require changing the mind of only one board member, since the KIPP schools were denied by a 5-4 vote in August. The proposed schools were shot down not primarily because of any deficiency at KIPP’s other campuses, but rather an argument that charters are sucking money away from traditional schools.

KIPP Nashville executive director Randy Dowell said he’s willing to open the schools under the state’s supervision, though he’d prefer to work with the local district.

“The schools we operate are Metro Schools, and we’ve always been very proud to be part of the MNPS family,” Dowell said. “We’d be excited these new schools could be opened with MNPS, but either way we’re excited.”

Also on Friday, the state board of education upheld the denials of two other Nashville charter schools. Rocketship, which already runs two schools in town, and the International Academy of Excellence had  appealed to the state board, as well.