Charter school applications are on the rise across the state of Tennessee, most of which are coming from existing operators who are looking to expand.
By the time the deadline hit last week, at least 48 organizations had placed letters of intent to apply. That number is up from the 43 organizations that did so last year.
Most of the organizations can be found throughout Memphis and Shelby Counties, which are home to the highest number of underperforming schools in the state and already houses 56 charter schools. Of the schools to file a letter of intent this year, 25 did so within Shelby County Schools, 15 of which are looking to expand on a network that currently operates a charter school in the district. The remaining 10 are proposals from new operators.
Metro Nashville Public Schools also experienced a large rise in the number of applications received this year, with 17 letters of intent filed, almost doubling the number of letters received from last year. 14 of those came from networks who already operate a school in the district.
While not everyone who applies will receive authorization, 16 new schools were approved last year.
All applicants have until April 1 to apply for district authorization. The deadline for letters of intent is March 24.
"We think this reflects the high number of quality operators we have in the state that are poised for growth and have a desire and ability to serve more students," said Justin Testerman, chief operating officer for the Tennessee Charter School Center, an advocacy group with offices in Memphis and Nashville.
Tennessee's charter school sector was rated one of the "healthiest" in the nation by the National Alliance for Public School Charters last October, and went on to praise authorizers for being more "finicky" than those found in other states, writes Daarel Burnette for Chalkbeat Tennessee.
Only authorizors of new charter schools in the state of Tennessee are local school districts and the state's Achievement School District (ASD), which is in charge of the state's lowest-performing schools, according to state law. The State Board of Education is also able to authorize the schools on appeal.
Supporters of the movement believe charter schools offer educational opportunities for children better than what they receive in the public school system. However, critics believe the schools are hurting the public school system and claim that charter school students do not perform at the same level as traditional school students.
Staff, too, are crying out for more flexibility. According to state licensure laws, teachers in the state cannot become principals without graduating from an approved in-state master's program. Out-of-state teachers must have at least three years experience as a principal in order to receive the designation. This has caused teachers in the state to call for more flexibility within the profession, with many of them choosing to work in charter schools.