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VOL. 38 | NO. 3 | Friday, January 17, 2014

New rules open more options for charters

By Lisa Fingeroot

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Nashville’s charter schools

Brick Church College Prep (LEAD) Boys Prep

Cameron College Prep

Drexel Preparatory Academy

East End Preparatory School

Intrepid Prep

KIPP Academy Nashville

KIPP Nashville College Prep

Knowledge Academies

LEAD Academy Middle School

LEAD Academy High School

LEAD Southeast Prep

Liberty Collegiate Academy

Nashville Classical Charter School

Nashville Prep

New Vision Academy

Purpose Prep

Smithson Craighead Academy- Elementary School

STEM Preparatory Academy

Coming 2014-15:

Rocketship Nashville

Nashville Academy of Computer Science

Valor Collegiate

KIPP Nashville Collegiate High School

A fifth school sponsored by East Nashville’s Martha O’Bryan Center, which already manages East End Prep charter school, was originally denied a charter but later approved.

A change in guidelines for charter school proposals in Metro Nashville is likely to trigger some adjustments in the city’s educational landscape, a charter school official says.

The recently adopted change will allow some of Nashville’s lowest performing schools to be targeted for charter management takeover during the annual charter school application process, says Justin Testerman, chief operating officer for the Tennessee Charter School Center, a Nashville organization dedicated to helping charter schools get off the ground.

The plan creates an avenue for charter operators to apply with a proposal to improve an existing school instead of start a new one from the ground up, and Testerman says he believes many charter operators will seek the opportunity.

Conversion from traditional public school to charter has been done twice in Nashville by LEAD Public Schools, a local charter school organization. Both moves were made after the schools were targeted for state takeover because of poor performance.

“Right now we have too many families trapped in schools not performing,” Testerman explains. Wealthier parents can move or even send their children to private schools, but other parents are forced to stay in their zoned schools if no charter school is available to them, he adds.

“They should have the same choices. We believe strongly in choice.”

Nashville has 18 charter schools with another five planned for next year, but controversy over the public money that follows each student to a charter school has caused Nashville school officials to try and limit the number of charter schools they approve while also using new charters to alleviate overcrowding.

About $9,000 follows each child to charters, and supporters contend the school system should be able to show a corresponding drop in expenses. However, school officials say the amount of money they lose is not offset by a matching drop in expenses and have worried about the “tipping point” when charter schools create a budget crunch for traditional public schools.

The application changes made by the school board in November allow continued growth of the charter schools but limits new schools to either South Nashville, where schools are at 120 percent capacity, or to existing schools that failed to meet system performance standards three years in a row.

Overall, Testerman says the charter school community is “going very strong” in Nashville. The number of schools continues to grow and most continue to perform well, he said.