Multiple School Systems See Appeals of Charter School Decisions

September 16, 2022

This week, three county school systems that rejected applications to open charter schools within their districts saw the state charter school commission hold hearings to determine whether to overturn those decisions. On Wednesday, a hearing was held in Rutherford County. Similar hearings were to be held on Thursday in Madison County and Friday in Montgomery County. All three applications were from organizations affiliated with Hillsdale College. 

Previously, charter schools in Tennessee have operated primarily in Davidson and Shelby Counties, with a limited number in Knox and Hamilton Counties. However, this past year multiple other counties began seeing applications after Governor Lee announced in his State of the State address that he hoped to have Hillsdale College open and operate as many as 50 charter schools in Tennessee. 

The Tennessee Public Charter School Commission was created by the legislature in 2019 to take over the responsibility of hearing charter school appeals from the Tennessee State Board of Education. If the commission overturns a local school board's decision to reject a charter school application, the commission can authorize the school and serve as its authorizing agency. Since the 2021-2022 school year, the Charter Commission has served as the charter school authorizer and local educational agency (LEA) for four authorized charter schools. 

When a charter school is authorized in a school system (whether by the local school board or the state commission), it is still considered a public school, but the per-pupil state and local funding for students that choose to attend the charter school is diverted from the school board to the organization operating the charter. Proponents of school choice argue that the money should follow the child, but local school boards and counties have countered that counties have fixed costs that do not decrease simply because a child attends a different school. Many of them have cited the financial hardship placed on the district as one of the reasons to reject a charter application. A single charter school can divert millions of dollars from the county school systems to the charter organization. 

More about the state public charter school commission and these appeals can be found on the Public Charter School Commission website