Tennessee awards grants to help 27 charter schools secure or improve buildings

Charter schools in Memphis, Nashville and Chattanooga are the recipients of Tennessee’s first state grants to help address a chronic burden for many charter programs: the high cost of buildings and property.

Grants of $125,000 each will go to 27 schools in the first round of awards announced Wednesday by the State Department of Education. The money comes from a $6 million state fund created this year to help charters offset the cost of facilities. The second round of awards will be announced in January.

“All of our students deserve to learn in an environment where they feel safe, supported, and set up for success,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a statement. “These awards will allow for new and improved facilities where students can be challenged and provided an opportunity to grow and thrive.”

Charter schools across the nation have struggled to find proper buildings to rent or purchase on tight budgets. In Tennessee, very few charters own their own buildings, and most are housed in formerly closed school buildings or commercial spaces that need renovations to be school-ready.  

The awards are based on a competitive application process aimed at assisting high-quality charter operators. Recipients must be in operation for at least three years and have a proven track record of academic gains. The funds are reimbursement-based and may be used to purchase property, improve buildings or repay debt for capital projects.

In Memphis, three grants were awarded to charter operators in the state-run Achievement School District, while 11 were given to charters authorized by Shelby County Schools. Ten are going to Nashville charters, and three to schools in Hamilton County.

Tennessee’s charter sector has grown steadily since the legislature opened the door to them under a 2002 law. To deal with the facilities challenge, Gov. Bill Haslam included $6 million for that purpose this year, and McQueen asked Haslam this week to re-up that allocation as he prepares next year’s budget.

The awards come just days after Tennessee charter school leaders announced a new $8 million federal grant to address the same issues.

The state’s first grant recipient schools are:

Achievement School District:

  • Aspire Coleman Elementary School
  • Aspire Hanley Elementary School 
  • Lester Prep

Shelby County Schools:

  • Aurora Collegiate Academy
  • Freedom Preparatory School
  • Memphis Academy of Health Sciences
  • Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering
  • Memphis Business Academy
  • Memphis College Prep
  • Memphis Grizzlies Preparatory Charter School
  • Memphis Rise Academy
  • Memphis School of Excellence
  • Soulsville Charter School
  • Vision Preparatory Charter School

Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools:

  • East End Preparatory School
  • Intrepid College Preparatory School
  • KIPP Academy Nashville
  • KIPP Nashville Collegiate High School
  • KIPP Nashville College Prep
  • Liberty Collegiate Academy
  • Nashville Academy of Computer Science
  • New Vision Academy
  • STEM Prep Academy
  • Valor Flagship Academy

Hamilton County Public Schools:

  • Chattanooga Charter School of Excellence
  • Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy
  • Ivy Academy Chattanooga