After two months of hammering out ways to shore up the relationship between Shelby County Schools and its charter schools, a special panel is recommending that operators pay the district an annual fee to fund their oversight in Memphis.

Members of the school system’s new Charter Advisory Committee hope the policy, if approved by the school board, will serve as a template for a state law to manage Tennessee’s growing charter sector.

The recommended fee, called an authorizer fee, initially would be set at 2 percent of a school’s state funding for students, then would increase a half percentage point annually until capping at 3 percent. Revenue generated would pay for district costs to oversee its charter schools and provide accountability. Any excess money would be returned to the operators each year to prevent a profit-making revenue stream for Shelby County Schools.

The fee would be optional because, under state law, a local district cannot force charter operators to pay one. However, some Memphis operators have expressed openness to the idea, especially as the district seeks to improve its oversight and is working with a national group to accomplish that.

Tennessee’s four urban districts, home to almost all of the state’s charter schools, have been clamoring for several years for the right to charge an authorizer fee for their privately managed, publicly funded schools. The state legislature has only granted that authority to the State Board of Education, now with two charter schools, and Tennessee’s Achievement School District, which oversees 28 charters as part of its school turnaround work

Luther Mercer, the Memphis advocacy director for the Tennessee Charter School Center, is the co-chair of the Shelby County Schools charter advisory committee.
PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Luther Mercer, the Memphis advocacy director for the Tennessee Charter School Center, is the co-chair of the Shelby County Schools charter advisory committee.

The district’s expressed need for an authorizer fee has the backing of the Tennessee Charter School Center, the state’s largest charter advocacy organization. But the specific policy has a long way to go, said Luther Mercer, the center’s advocacy director and co-chairman of the 26-member charter advisory committee.

Still, the recommendation is a chance for the district and its charter schools to come to a compromise before the state develops its own plan, according to Grant Monda, who leads Aurora Collegiate Academy in Memphis and serves on the advisory panel.

“I think it’s important for us to take control over our own destiny here in Shelby County,” Monda told Chalkbeat. “Both the charter schools and Shelby County Schools recognize the need to be a high-quality authorizer and provide accountability. And we recognize that comes at a cost.”