Tennessee hires Nevada’s former education chief to consult on new charter commission

The former superintendent of public schools in Nevada is the chief consultant developing Tennessee’s new charter school commission.

Steve Canavero’s $50,000 contract with the Department of Education began on Feb. 19 and will end next Jan. 31, with an option to renew at that time, according to documents obtained by Chalkbeat.

He is working with the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission, created under a 2019 law that was proposed by Gov. Bill Lee. Beginning in 2021, the nine-member panel will take over the state Board of Education’s responsibility in overseeing the state’s growing sector of the publicly funded, privately operated schools. 

Canavero led a similar charter initiative in Nevada and is guiding the transition in Tennessee, where the 18-year-old charter sector has gained a firm foothold but also creates frequent tensions over issues related to quality, funding, and local education control. 

He is a senior adviser at WestEd, a San Francisco-based research and consulting group that submitted the only proposal in Tennessee’s search for a contractor to support the commission’s development.

Canavero served as Nevada’s education chief from 2015 to 2019 under former Republican Gov. Brian Sandova and resigned after Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak took office. 

During his tenure, he oversaw the launch of a state-run school turnaround district similar to Tennessee’s charter-reliant Achievement School District, as well as debate about the size of Nevada’s charter sector. Currently, more than 10% of Nevada’s K-12 students attend charter schools.

Prior to leading Nevada’s education department, Canavero was the founding director of the Nevada State Public Charter School Authority and was chief architect of the bill creating that statewide board. A former charter school teacher and principal, he serves on the board of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. He is also a member of Chiefs for Change, a national network of reform-minded education leaders that includes Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn.

Tennessee opened the door to charter schools under a 2002 state law. Local school boards have the authority to authorize charters, while the state board is responsible for hearing appeals. In calling for the new commission, Lee argued that the state needs a single group focused solely on the quality of charter schools.

Tennessee has 118 charter schools, mostly in Shelby County, followed by Metropolitan Nashville, Hamilton County, and Knox County.

Correction: Feb. 21, 2020: A previous version of this story, which was based on documents available at the time, said the contract began on Feb. 1 and will end on June 30. The dates were revised in the signed contract, which was obtained by Chalkbeat on Feb. 21.