A sweeping bill that rewrites Tennessee’s charter school law passed its first hurdle on Wednesday with a few revisions, including one that would allow the state’s largest districts to charge higher fees from the charter schools they oversee.
The Tennessee Department of Education, which wrote the bill, agreed that districts in Memphis and Nashville could charge up to 3 percent of a charter’s per-pupil funding, or $35,000 per school. That’s up from 1 percent in the initial proposal discussed last week during a House education subcommittee meeting.
Tennessee has more than 100 public charter schools, and the lengthy bill clarifies state code on everything from applications to closure. The measure, which heads next to the full House Education Instruction and Programs Committee, is meant to address concerns of both charter and local district leaders.
Since Tennessee opened the door to charter schools in 2002, local districts have worried they would drain resources from traditional public schools, especially in Memphis and Nashville, where most of the state’s charter schools are located. In recent years, school board members stepped up their fight to charge charter schools for the work involved in overseeing them.
The state-run Achievement School District and State Board of Education already can charge charter fees of 3 and 4 percent, respectively.
Other changes to the proposal Wednesday included new language to ensure that charter schools can’t give student information to third parties without prior consent, and eliminating a provision that would have given charter schools right-of-first refusal over underutilized or vacant buildings belonging to local districts.
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Harry Brooks, the Knoxville Republican who chairs a House education committee, and Sen. Mark Norris, a Republican from Memphis.