Legislative Priorities

Committed to making sure all voices are clearly heard

Each year, the Tennessee Charter School Center identifies key political challenges and opportunities facing the state’s charter school sector and the students and families it serves.

Charter Schools Facilities Funding

Research shows a significant relationship between the condition of school facilities and student performance. However, public charter schools in Tennessee struggle to provide school facilities that match the quality of traditional public schools. This inequity ultimately redirects needed funds away from the classroom. To help balance this inequity, TCSC supports recurring funding in the state budget for charter schools facilities funding. In addition, it is important that a portion of the facilities funding is provided to all charter schools on a per-pupil basis. Recurring per pupil funding provides a reliable revenue stream for charter schools to make proactive, long-term investment decisions based on a secure, ongoing funding source.

Access to Facilities

Charter schools in Tennessee must finance, locate, build, update, or renovate facilities to use as school buildings. One way to reduce this burden on schools is to make publicly financed space available for charter schools. Like all public schools, charter schools deserve access to facilities that have already been financed with taxpayers’ money. This option would provide charter schools with free or affordable access to space that was designed for school use, as opposed to having to pay to reconfigure a former shopping mall, office, church, storefront, or any other building that was originally designed as something other than a school.

Role of the Public Charter School Commission

In order to ensure the growth of high-quality charter schools, the Public Charter School Commission should be leveraged in the following ways:

-        Limited Statewide Authorizer. Local districts remain an authorizer, however, districts that have their denial decisions overturned by the charter commission for a set number of times then charter schools seeking approval in the district may apply directly to the charter school commission or to the local district. This maintains local input and could help incentivize districts to make more sound decisions on charter school applications.

-        Permit districts to voluntarily give their authorizing authority to commission. This might be a preferred option for districts with a small number of charter schools. Knox County has expressed interest in such an arrangement as they feel it is a lot of time, energy, and resources for the one charter school they have in the district.

-        Allow CMOs with multiple authorizers but located in the same geographic area to apply to have all schools moved under the jurisdiction of one authorizer. Several CMOs have expressed frustration with reporting to two authorizers for schools in the same district. For example, a CMO that has two schools located in Nashville, one authorized by MNPS and one authorized by the State Board/ Charter Commission. There are different student management systems, different funding formulas, and different compliance requirements, just to name a few.

-        Allow schools that have at least 1 school approved by the charter commission school to seek replication directly from the commission without having to go through the LEA first. This will help keep authorizers consolidated and will eliminate a long bureaucratic process to replicate a school that has already shown success.

-        Allow institutions of higher education to apply directly to the charter school commission to operate a charter school. Through TCAT/ charter school partnerships students may be provided hands-on learning, field-based experiences, internships, college credits, and test to earn industry standard certifications. Partnerships with TCATs could serve as an entry point for charter schools in rural areas. HEIs as an authorizer for charter schools to serve as “teacher training schools.” Tennessee state statue currently allows HEIs to open and operate teacher training schools, however, they do not have a specific school status and operate through a contract with the district. Additionally, only two HEIs in the state operate teacher training schools. Allowing HEIs to authorize these schools as charter schools could provide additional charter school seats and encourage more HEIs to take advantage of this option.

Basic Education Program (BEP) Funding

TCSC supports updating Tennessee’s funding formula to accelerate student success. Updates should include a simplified formula that provides a clearly defined base per-pupil amount and weightings that align with individual student needs such as economically disadvantaged, special education, English learners, high-poverty, charter enrollment, and sparsity. Moving to a weighted student-based formula will ensure charter schools receive the per-pupil amount for the students they are serving rather than the district average. Additionally, districts and charter schools should maintain spending autonomy but need relevant support & training in how to use funds strategically, and Tennesseans should have full transparency into all funding and spending across the state. 

Special Education Funding

Special education is one of the most expensive programs at a school, because students with disabilities often need extra services, such as speech therapy or one-on-one aides. Currently, charter schools in TN receive the district average special education funding and do not receive funding based on the actual needs of the students they are serving. In order to ensure schools have the resources necessary to serve their most vulnerable students, the special education formula or distribution method should be updated and there should be an increase to the amount of funding Tennessee spends on special education for all schools and districts. 

Funding Transparency

Equitable operational funding and equal access to all applicable federal

and state funding is imperative for charter schools. A key component of ensuring and monitoring equitable funding is through greater transparency. Tennessee should produce an annual report offering district and charter school funding comparisons and including annual recommendations to the legislature for any needed equity enhancements. Additionally, all funding passthrough amounts of state and federal funding from the state and district should be made publicly available.

Protect Charter School Quality and Transparency

In order to move an ambitious charter policy agenda forward it is imperative that the authorizers are focused on approving charter school models that have proven academic outcomes for students. Charter school operators must be held to the same fiscal standards as all other public schools in Tennessee and should have a governance structure where decision making is made at the school level and in the best interests of students. Tennessee’s charter sector is one of the highest performing in the nation serving low-income students and we want to continue that strong trajectory. 

Charter School Enrollment Lottery Clean-Up

Enrollment lotteries use preferences and weights for certain students to ensure fairness and equity in enrollment. Tennessee law only makes reference to “enrollment preferences” which is confusing and hard to implement. Rewriting the enrollment lottery law will provide much needed clarity and will also allow for schools to weight enrollment for students who are at-risk. Clarification will also be provided around the enrollment preference for children of charter school staff.

Grade Expansion for Charter Schools

Charter schools apply to LEAs based on the grade bands of the LEA. For example, MNPS defines an elementary school as grades K-4, so when a charter school applies to open an elementary school the grades they serve are K-4. This legislation would allow charter schools to change the grades they serve if the district changes its grade bands without having to go through the formal charter amendment process.

Corrective Action Plans

In accordance with the National Alliance for Public Charter School model policy, Tennessee law should provide a specific provision that allows authorizers to notify its charter schools of perceived problems and provide opportunities for the schools to remedy such problems.

Maintain Assessments and Accountability

The vision of charter schools is greater operational autonomy in exchange for greater accountability. Tennessee’s current charter sector is one of the highest performing in the nation, and we believe this is, in large part, the result of our strong accountability system which measures both student achievement and growth. To maintain our high performance, we believe it is imperative that all charter schools continue to be held accountable for strong performance. Additionally, assessments play a critical role in improving education quality, providing feedback to students, helping educators identify opportunities to improve their teaching skills, allowing administrators a chance to determine additional student supports and professional development needs, and giving parents and community leaders a look at both individual and school performance. It is critical that Tennessee continue to collect accurate data to inform the development of learning plans that will help all students improve.

Educator Pipeline

Charter schools and districts alike are facing serious challenges in recruiting and retaining educators. Bold and innovative steps must be taken to address the teacher shortages our schools are feeling. There should be state support for charter sponsored teacher residencies or other alternative licensure programs, support for prep and tutoring for individuals to take the Praxis, and Praxis reimbursement for candidates in hard to staff areas. Additionally, the state should explore ways for candidates to show content mastery beyond just the Praxis exam. Additionally, there is a continued need to recruit, develop and retain teachers of color. The state has implemented some programs that can help improve diversity in the teaching profession, such as the grow your own program, however, currently these programs are only available to districts. State programs like these should be made available to charter schools. There should be an emphasis on recruitment, tuition assistance, and academic support for candidates of color in educator preparation programs. Educator preparation programs should be required to adopt diversity policies, in addition to LEAs and the state should refine how candidate diversity is reported in the educator preparation report card.

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