Tennessee is close to overhauling the way it oversees charter schools.
The state Senate voted 25-1 on Wednesday to approve the so-called High Quality Charter Act, which now heads to Gov. Bill Haslam for his signature. The proposal overwhelmingly passed the House last week.
The bill would replace Tennessee’s 2002 charter school law.
“This law will ensure Tennessee authorizes high-quality charter schools for years to come,” said Sen. Brian Kelsey, one of the sponsors.
The measure was developed by the State Department of Education in an effort to address the often rocky relationships between Tennessee’s 105 charter schools and the districts that oversee them. The overhaul clarifies rules on everything from applications to closure.
Local districts will be able to charge an authorizer fee to cover the cost of charter oversight — something that school systems have sought since the first charter schools opened in the state in 2003.
The bill also establishes a fund of up to $6 million for facilities. That’s a boon to charter organizations that are too cash-strapped to pay rent and maintain their school buildings, said Maya Bugg, CEO of the Tennessee Charter School Center.
“It’s really an equity issue,” Bugg said of the facilities issue. “You have charter schools serving a majority of students of color, low-income, and for them to have this gap in funding, it takes dollars away from those students.”
The proposal had widespread support from the charter sector and from officials with Shelby County Schools, the state’s largest authorizer of charter schools, which has been sorting out many of the issues addressed in the revisions.
“Future school board decisions on whether to authorize a charter school will be based on best practices, and charter schools that fail to meet performance standards will be shut down,” said Kelsey, a Germantown Republican. “I am glad that the governor reached agreement between local school districts and charter school operators over how much charter schools should pay for an administration fee.”