One of SCORE’s 2021 education priorities is to support and expand proven school models to advance opportunities for students of color and low-income students, and public charter schools play an important role in providing those opportunities. This second installment in our legislative recap series summarizes the progress Tennessee has made in this area.
In the first session of the 112th General Assembly, the legislature and Governor Bill Lee addressed this issue by dedicating federal relief funds toward charter school support and expansion, providing clarity around exit pathways for charter schools in the Achievement School District, and including charter facilities funding in the FY21-22 budget.
Governor Bill Lee dedicated discretionary funds from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund to charter schools.
SCORE advocates for the support and expansion of high-performing charter schools to better meet the needs of students. As the majority of students in Tennessee’s charter sector are students of color and come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, high-quality charter schools are critical to advancing a more equitable education system in the state. Recognizing the important role of charter schools, Governor Lee created the following grants through the GEER fund:
- Charter School Support Grant ($5 million) – half awarded as per-pupil allocations and the other half reserved for charter schools demonstrating significant academic growth
- Charter School Expansion Grant ($5 million) to create new or replicate existing high-quality charter schools
During the regular session, the legislature also clarified exit pathways for charter schools in the Achievement School District.
The first cohort of the state’s Achievement School District (ASD), a state school turnaround district, was launched in 2012. By law, schools cannot remain in the ASD longer than 10 years, and that first cohort is soon scheduled to exit. The legislature passed a bill (SB737/HB74) to clarify the exit process for ASD charter schools. This new law authorizes the Commissioner of Education to determine, based on the performance of an ASD-authorized charter school, whether the school must apply to its home district or if it can apply to the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission for authorization after leaving the ASD.
The General Assembly also provided a recurring $817,700 to support the Public Charter School Commission with additional capacity as their authorizing role expands to schools exiting the ASD. SCORE believes in the value of high-quality charter authorizers to support a well-functioning charter system, and our 2021 State of Education report emphasized the importance of establishing strong authorizer accountability.
Lastly, the legislature passed a final budget for the upcoming fiscal year (FY21-22) that included much-needed charter school facilities funding.
Charter schools face additional challenges in securing facilities funding and often have to divert their per-pupil funding to address facility costs. To create a permanent solution that ensures more public education dollars are spent directly on student instruction, SCORE’s 2021 State of Education report called for the state to establish recurring funding for charter facilities. Notably, the FY21-22 budget included:
- $6 million in recurring funding for the Charter School Facilities fund
- $18 million in one-time funding for the Charter School Facilities fund
With the investments made and legislation passed during the 2021 legislative session, Tennessee reaffirms its commitment to supporting high-quality charter schools and authorizers across the state. Tennessee’s charter sector is poised to begin the FY21-22 school year ready to effectively serve students and to expand opportunity. SCORE will continue to advocate for the state to strengthen charter school and authorizer accountability to ensure students have high-quality educational experiences and that charter schools are serving each student’s needs.
Madeline Price is SCORE’s K-12 policy analyst.