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 [email protected]

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Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.