Nashville Schools: Defying State Orders and Leaving Students Behind

Ryan Higgins

Last week, the Metro Nashville Board of Education voted for the third time to deny Great Hearts Academies the right to open a charter school in the city.  Great Hearts had originally submitted their application late this spring to open a school by summer 2013 on the western side of the city.  They were twice denied by the Metro Nashville Board of Education due to fears that the charter school would primarily cater to white, affluent residents of the city.

Great Hearts Academies refuted this claim, arguing that their diversity plan far exceeded that of Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS).  Admission to the school would be determined by a blind lottery system, giving equal weight to all applicants.  This admissions structure would not favor racial diversity, but would also not discourage it either.

After two denials by the Board of Education, Great Hearts Academies appealed to the State Board of Education, who accepted their plan and authorized them to open.  However, approval was still needed from the Metro Nashville Board of Education.  Despite the direct orders from the state Education Commissioner, Kevin Huffman, the city denied Great Hearts’ application for the third time.

In ignoring the orders of the state Board of Education, the Metro Nashville Board of Education is sending a strong symbol of defiance.  Their hostility to charter schools is evident from the numerous application denials in recent years.  Even the renowned KIPP charter schools were denied several times by this board.  As a result of this hostility, Great Hearts has withdrawn their application and has vowed to not open any schools in Tennessee until the state refines the application process.  In response, the Tennessee Department of Education announced that they are investigating the creation of a non-partisan board to oversee charter school applications.  This evident aversion to charter schools will certainly discourage future applications, limiting school choice within MNPS.  More than that, the defiance indicates a blatant disregard for laws and the lack of enforcement power granted to the state Board of Education.

Charter schools can be a very controversial topic, as many school districts are opposed to them out of fear that they will take the best students out of existing schools.  There is also resentment that arises out of the funding system, as charter schools receive the per-pupil funding that would have gone to the existing public schools.

However, such a politicized debate over charter schools truly forgets who benefits from charter schools: the students.  The students of Nashville would surely benefit from a strong academic program provided by Great Hearts Academies.  As it is, Tennessee ranks among the worst states in education, and MNPS tends to be towards the bottom of the list as well.  The increased competition would give MNPS an even greater reason to make academic improvements.  More than that, it would give students whose only other option is a failing school the opportunity to achieve academically.

The Metro Nashville Board of Education was acting out of its own self-interest in denying the charter school application, a selfishness that prevents kids from obtaining a quality education and a chance at bettering their futures.  The State of Tennessee should take swift and strong action to reprimand the Board of Education and prevent future defiance, and to remind them to put the educational needs of their students ahead of politics.

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