Two KIPP Schools poised to be first run by State Board of Education

Tennessee’s state school board could gain direct control over charter schools for the first time after Nashville’s board declined again to back two schools’ efforts to open in the city.

The local board split 4-4 on Tuesday evening on a vote about whether to authorize two KIPP charter schools that been seeking approval to open since this summer.

The decision extends a monthslong game of hot potato over the schools and queues the state board up to play a new role in managing charter schools at a time when state and local authorities are increasingly competing to control low-performing schools.

“In this current process, it doesn’t seem like what we’ve been elected to do matters,” said Nashville board chair Sharon Gentry, who voted against the schools’ bid to open.

The saga began this summer when Nashville’s board rejected KIPP’s applications twice, saying the schools would siphon off too much of the district’s funding.

In October, KIPP successfully appealed to the State Board of Education under the terms of a new law that gives the state board the right to authorize charter schools. Of 11 charter operators that have appealed to the state board since the law passed last year, KIPP was the first and only one to prevail.

The state board’s decision sent the schools back to Nashville’s board for reconsideration. Since 2001, Nashville’s board has given nearly 30 charter schools, including four KIPP schools, the right to open — a core responsibility of authorizers, along with closing schools that do not meet their goals — but is known for being sparing with its approvals. In 2012, the board was fined $3 million for rejecting a charter that the state Department of Education thought it should have approved.

The board’s rejection of KIPP this summer was also close, when five out of nine board members voted against the operator. But Tuesday’s tie equates to the board not taking any action at all, which automatically means that the new KIPP schools will be run by the State Board. The Metro School board could still call a special meeting to approve the schools before a Nov. 23 deadline.

Gentry suggested that that was unlikely.

“Whether we approve them, or not, they will still open,” said board chair Sharon Gentry. “There will be students from Nashville Public Schools sitting in those seats when they open.”