For the first time next year, the Tennessee Board of Education will oversee a charter school in Memphis.
The board said today that it will authorize a controversial new charter school run by a national operator Green Dot Public Schools.
Green Dot’s initial effort to open a new charter school in Hickory Hill was blocked by the Shelby County School Board in August. The Shelby County board rejected the school’s charter application, noting disappointing test scores at a Green Dot school in the city that’s under the state-run Achievement School District.
Green Dot appealed that rejection to the state board, which overruled the local board and gave Green Dot approval to move ahead with its new school in fall 2017.
At the time, State Board executive director Sara Heyburn told the board that the charter operator “has a clearly identified geographic area and deep knowledge of the population they intend to serve in the Memphis community.”
The Memphis school district began negotiating with Green Dot to authorize the new high school but the deadline to reach a deal arrived today without an agreement, state board officials said.
Shelby County Schools issued a statement Monday afternoon saying the district “offered to authorize its new charter school. Green Dot informed us today that it has chosen to work with the State Board of Education as its authorizer. We wish Green Dot all the best as we want every school in Shelby County to be a high-quality option for students and their families.”
But later, Green Dot said in a statement on Facebook they did not have enough time before the deadline.
“We appreciate Shelby County Schools’ offer to work with us. Due to time constraints, we were not able to come to agreement on the terms of a potential contract,” the statement read. “We hope to partner with SCS in the future to operate high-performing charter schools.”
The move means Shelby County Schools will lose those students as well as thousands of dollars of state funding that’s tied to enrollment. It comes as the district is already struggling to maintain enrollment as the Achievement School District expands.
This is the second time the state board has authorized a charter school that was rejected by a local board, but it’s the the first time it’s happened in Memphis. The move is sure to ruffle feathers with Shelby County Schools board members who have said they would have prefered to see the local district oversee the school to prevent state interference.
The California-based charter operator and the local district have had some turf battles over enrollment as schools transitioned from Shelby County Schools to the Achievement School District, which is tasked with turning around the state’s lowest performing schools.
The State Board’s unanimous vote last fall to approve two KIPP schools in Nashville marked the first time it overturned a local district board’s decision on charter school expansion. In that case, the local school district also decided to have the State Board oversee operations of those schools.
Nashville school board members have threatened to sue the state over the 2014 law that allows the State Board to overturn local decisions on charter schools and operate its own schools, charging that it oversteps local authority.
Chalkbeat reporter Grace Tatter contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a statement from Shelby County Schools and Green Dot Public Schools Tennessee.