Amended bill would expand enrollment, funding options for state-run school district

Chris Barbic, superintendent of the state's Achievement School District, urged lawmakers to approve a bill that would permit ASD-authorized charter schools to enroll some out-of-zone students.

A bill that originally was about financial literacy was rewritten Tuesday through an amendment that would allow the state’s Achievement School District (ASD) to enroll out-of-zone students and charge charter schools an authorization fee.

The amended bill, backed by Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration, was approved unanimously by the House Education Administration and Planning Subcommittee. It replaces a similar bill that was approved in February by the Senate Education Committee. Both the original House bill and the amendment were introduced by Rep. Harry Brooks (R-Knoxville).

If it becomes law, the amended bill could impact underperforming schools in Memphis and Nashville that have been taken over by the state and turned over to charter organizations as part of the state’s turnaround strategy for struggling schools.

Specifically, the bill would allow out-of-zone students to comprise up to 25 percent of students in any school operated through the ASD. It also would allow the ASD to charge its charter school operators an authorizer fee – for up to 3 percent of the school’s public funding.

Much of Tuesday’s debate was over whether the ASD should be permitted to enroll students who aren’t residentially zoned to their schools. When the state created the ASD in 2010, lawmakers specified that its charter schools would not recruit out-of-zone students, but would operate under the same zoning restrictions used by traditional public schools. This year, however, Barbic has asked lawmakers to allow charters to expand their reach.

Barbic told the House panel that ASD schools have room for more students, but that they often must turn away families because of where they live. He cited Cornerstone Prep in Memphis as an example. Much of the discussion echoed exchanges in February between Barbic and members of the Senate Education Committee.

Stephen Smith, legislative liaison for the state Education Department, concurred with Barbic’s explanation. “We just want the opportunity to be able to serve those parents and serve those children,” Smith said.

However, Shelby County Schools lobbyist Tony Thompson said the change would be another blow to the already beleaguered district, by pulling away more students from its schools in Memphis. “We’re closing schools all the time down here, and this is just another thing that adds to the situation,” he said.

Last year, Shelby County Schools – beset by shrinking enrollment and a shrinking budget – shuttered 10 schools. This year, the district’s Board of Education is considering closing two more.

Thompson also questioned if operators of ASD charters should be allowed to recruit students if the schools are still academically in the state’s bottom 5 percent of schools.

The charter authorization aspect of the amendment received less attention, but Thompson told Chalkbeat that he had concerns about that as well.

Follow the status of education-related bills in the 109th Tennessee General Assembly.
Follow the status of education-related bills in the 109th Tennessee General Assembly.

A bill scheduled for discussion Wednesday in the House Education Instruction and Programming Subcommittee proposes that traditional school districts also be allowed to charge an authorizing fee to district-authorized charter school operators — a proposal that district administrators have been pushing for years. However, the bill caps the district’s fee at 2.2 percent – below the 3 percent cap for the ASD under Tuesday’s amended bill.

Contact Grace Tatter at gtatter@chalkbeat.org.

Follow us on Twitter: @GraceTatter, @chalkbeattn.

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What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.