hail mary

With the defeat of vouchers, Memphis Catholic leaders seek charter conversion

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Memphis Catholic High School in 2016.

With no ability to get public funding through a school voucher program that Tennessee lawmakers have refused to create, the Catholic Diocese of Memphis is turning to another possible avenue: converting a network of schools to charters.

Diocese leaders announced plans this week to close its Jubilee Catholic Schools Network, as well as St. Michael Catholic School, at the end of the 2018-19 school year. The diocese only has enough funding to take the schools through next school year, according to an announcement posted online.

The announcement also said that talks are underway for an existing or new charter network to seek authorization from Shelby County Schools to open new schools in the same locations.

But whether that avenue is open depends on the local district. While diocese leaders said a charter network plans to file a letter of intent by Feb. 1, leaders with Shelby County Schools said Wednesday that the first time they heard from anyone representing Jubilee was soon after the diocese announcement.

Diocese spokesman Vince Higgins told Chalkbeat that board members for the Jubilee network have been leading discussions to gather community interest in creating a new charter network or having an existing one step in.

If that happens, the conversion would be a massive transition involving up to 10 schools that serve more than 1,500 students in pre-K through the 12th grade. Since the charter network would become a public school, the religious education would be eliminated, but many of the staff and students are not Catholic.

Jubilee schools were founded in 1999 to serve students from low-income families. Almost all of the students receive needs-based scholarships, leaving some families to pay as little as $40 per month.

Tapping a voucher program to give families public dollars to pay for private tuition represented a last resort to fill a funding gap left by a shrinking trust fund and declining enrollment. In 2014, the network stood to gain more than $2 million from vouchers if they filled their classroom space. The Jubilee network has about 500 empty seats this year, or one-fourth of its capacity.

But state lawmakers have been reticent to approve a voucher plan. This year, the bill’s main sponsors announced that their proposal was dead before the legislative session even began, sealing the fate of the private Catholic network.

“It’s one of those instances where we saw this was coming, but there was no savior. No one threw a life ring,” Higgins said.

Jubilee was virtually alone among Memphis private schools willing to accept vouchers and administer state tests if the legislature created a program. Many other schools were undecided, some citing the strings attached to receiving taxpayer funds.

Here’s a map of schools affected:

Keeping students safe

Leadership instability atop Chicago schools contributed to mishandling of student sex cases: report

PHOTO: Getty Images

Instability in leadership at Chicago schools — from a revolving door of chief executives to changes in network chiefs — contributed to a gap in oversight that failed to protect student victims of sexual abuse, according to a preliminary report released today.  

“This turnover makes it difficult to instill and maintain productive policies and procedures, stable systems independent of any person, and cultures of compliance,” according to the draft of a report authored by former federal prosecutor Maggie Hickey, who has been hired by Chicago Public Schools to review the district’s handling of sexual misconduct in schools and make policy recommendations.

The report identified “systemic deficiencies…at all levels: in the schools, the networks, the Central Office, and the Chicago Board of Education (Board),” the report reads. “CPS did not collect overall data to see trends in certain schools or across geographies or demographics. Thus, CPS failed to recognize the extent of the problem.”

“While there were policies and procedures about sexual misconduct on the books, employees were not consistently trained on them, and there were no mechanisms to ensure that they were being uniformly implemented or to evaluate their effectiveness.”

A systemic failure to properly address student sexual abuse across the last decade was first revealed in the Chicago Tribune earlier in the summer. In response, the district implemented several measures including conducting new background checks for school staff, removing the principals of two schools, and creating a new Title IX office.

Board of Education President Frank Clark said in a statement that “student safety is the highest priority for the Board, which is why we took immediate action before this preliminary report was completed. We will use this report as a roadmap to build upon the significant steps the district has taken to strengthen safeguards and supports for our students.”

Find the current draft of the report below.

test scores

How did your school perform on TNReady tests? Search here for results

Student's group

Nearly 700 schools – more than 40 percent of schools in Tennessee – improved in student performance across most grades and subjects, according to a state release of 2018 test results. And 88 school districts or 60 percent met or surpassed student growth expectations.

Test score data for every public school in Tennessee was released Thursday by the state Department of Education.

You can search our database below to find out how students in your school performed. The results show the percentage of students in each school who are performing at or above grade level.

Note: The state doesn’t release data for an exam if fewer than 5 percent of students scored on grade level or if 95 percent of students were above grade level. An asterisk signifies that a school’s score falls in one of those two categories.