Gov. Bill Lee plans to ask Tennessee’s legislature to double state funding to help charter schools deal with the chronic challenge of paying for costly buildings and campuses.
The investment would give the state’s 112 charter schools the chance to vie for facility grants totaling $12 million next fiscal year.
And if the legislature approves Lee’s proposed spending plan, it would make the third straight year that Tennessee has set aside money to help charter schools offset the cost of their facilities.
Charter schools were the only education topic addressed Monday morning when the governor’s office released advance excerpts of Lee’s State of the State address, which will begin at 6 p.m. Central Time before a joint session of the Tennessee General Assembly.
Higher teacher pay and school vouchers are among other possibilities that may be outlined in the Republican governor’s first proposed budget, which will be released to coincide with his speech in Nashville.
“I believe highly accountable public charter schools are a great model for expanding choice without sacrificing quality, and I’ve seen firsthand how they can dramatically impact the life and trajectory of a student,” Lee said in the excerpt. “In my budget, we are doubling the amount of public charter school facility funding and I will support legislation this year that makes it easier to open good charter schools and easier to close bad ones.”
Tennessee’s charter sector has grown steadily since the legislature opened the door to charters under a 2002 law. However, very few of the publicly funded, independently operated schools own their own buildings. Most are housed in school buildings that had been closed by their local district, or in commercial spaces that need extensive renovations.
Maya Bugg, CEO of the Tennessee Charter School Center, called facility needs the “greatest obstacle for quality public charter schools” and commended Lee for the added investment.
“Doubling the resources will impact upwards of 50,000 charter students across Tennessee by ensuring that millions of dollars are kept where they matter most — in the classroom,” Bugg said in a statement.
In 2017, Gov. Bill Haslam established a $6 million fund for charter facilities and, with the legislature’s backing, re-upped the allocation for the current fiscal year. The state also has received some federal funding for the same purpose.
Memphis is home to most of Tennessee’s charter schools, with others located in Nashville, Chattanooga, and Knoxville.