KIPP argues to state that expanding charters will cost Nashville less, not more

ByBlake Farmer

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KIPP Nashville made its case to the state after its application to open two more charter schools was denied by the Metro board of education in August. KIPP is rebutting claims that further expansion of charters eats into money that would be spent on traditional schools.

The organization’s attorney told the state board of education on Wednesday that opening two schools — one in 2017, one in 2019 — might actually save the district some money it would otherwise spend to build new schools and relieve overcrowding. The pair of proposed KIPP charters would be located in fast-growing southeast Davidson County.

Drew Goddard, who also sits on the KIPP Nashville board, walked state officials through a spreadsheet that showed the district’s projected revenue dedicated to traditional schools will continue to grow, just not as fast.

“Each year, there is going to be more money. Even with the charters, there’s just going to be some less more money,” he said. “If some less more money is a fiscal reason to deny a charter school, then any board, any time could deny a charter and it’d have to hold up.”

That’s probably not what the state legislature intended when they wrote the Tennessee charter law, Goddard said. Tennessee code gives districts the discretion to deny charters based on what’s in the best interest of students.

What About KIPP’s Wait-List?

Several times throughout the two-hour hearing, representatives from Metro Schools highlighted a fact agreed upon by both sides: Only one of KIPP’s four schools has a waiting list. And the organization has approval for another school that it has not yet opened.

So MNPS attorney Corey Harkey said the board chose not to bind itself and free up money to help traditional schools that have extensive waiting lists many times larger.

“MNPS does not know what will be happening in five years,” Harkey said. “We don’t know if there will be a greater or lesser need for these specific proposed schools.”

The meeting also included a public hearing segment, which was dominated by KIPP parents, students and alumni.

KIPP’s appeal is a first test for Tennessee’s new law allowing the state board of education to not just override a local decision but authorize charter schools on its own.

The state board also heard appeals from two other charter operators hoping to expand in Nashville this week, but unlike KIPP, those applications had not been recommended by the district’s charter review committee. And KIPP’s proposal was the only one to be rejected on a narrow 5-4 vote this year.

The state board of education is expected to make a decision at its Oct. 23 meeting.