The Tennessee Senate voted Tuesday to grant student enrollment flexibility to charter schools authorized by the state’s Achievement School District (ASD), most of which are in Memphis.

The bill, which was approved last week by the Tennessee House, now goes to the desk of Gov. Bill Haslam, whose administration initiated the legislation.

The ASD oversees schools that are among the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools in the state — 22 in Memphis and one in Nashville. Like many traditional public schools in Memphis, charter schools in Memphis are under-enrolled, and charter operators are eager to fill them.

The measure will allow ASD schools to enroll some students who live in out-of-zone neighborhoods — as long as the students qualify for free-and-reduced lunch, have failed statewide achievement tests, or have parents or relatives who work at the school. Out-of-zone students may comprise only up to 25 percent of the school’s enrollment.

Sen. Delores Gresham (at right) presents the student enrollment bill to the Tennessee Senate.
PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
Sen. Delores Gresham (at right) presents the ASD student enrollment bill to the Tennessee Senate.

Until now, only students zoned to an ASD school or another school in the bottom 5 percent are permitted to attend a school in the turnaround district. Out-of-zone students will not be allowed to attend any ASD school that has not achieved adequate student growth.

The measure also would allow the ASD to charge its charter operators an authorizer fee of up to 3 percent of each school’s per-pupil funding from the state.

Though the measure met little resistance in the Senate, lawmakers expressed concern in committee that the policy will result in the ASD recruiting high-achieving students to boost their test scores. ASD Superintendent Chris Barbic, who testified about the proposal several times during the legislative session, said the bill is not intended to boost scores, but rather to help parents who want to send their children to ASD schools.