Metro Nashville to Revisit Rejected Charter Application

The Tennessean reports that Nashville school officials are set to reconsider a controversial charter school application from Great Hearts Academies in September when a new group of board members is set to take office.

The application has been added to the September Agenda by outgoing Chairwoman Gracie Porter, whose tenure in the role terminates at the end of August, and system Director Jesse Register. Both were unavailable for comment, but Register’s assistant commented that she didn’t know the motivation for the inclusion.

“They (new members) need to be a part of this,” said board member Anna Shepherd, whose term does not end until 2014. “They have to live with the decision.”

Shepherd was one of seven board members who voted earlier this week to indefinitely defer a decision on Great Hearts. The decision caused an avalanche of opposition from other government officials, culminating in a state threat to withhold funding from Metro schools.

The original decision to defer brought immediate condemnation from Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman, who accused the board of acting illegally and threatened sanctions such as withholding of funds until the school district complied.

The threat of financial sanctions being used was downplayed by Governor Bill Haslam, who commented that despite the board going against a state directive by refusing to approve a charter school, they also had to consider the impact that a withholding of funds would have on the children already within the system.

“I think with education, the discussion should always be what’s best for the students,” Haslam said Thursday. “We’ll have to think about what we do if the Metro school board doesn’t go along with what the law is. That being said, threatening to withhold money — that’s not the business we’re in. We’re in the business of educating children.”

The State Board of Education directed the Metro Nashville Public Schools Board of Education to approve the application following a successful appeal by Great Hearts after the Metro Board had already denied their application twice.

The Metro Board claims that its actions are within the law because it took action and is waiting for Great Hearts to comply with a number of requests related to ensuring diversity and dealing with teacher certification. The main point of contention holding up approval appears to be the diversity plan; Metro Board members are concerned that the charter will become a publicly funded private school for affluent students from the west side if there isn’t a concrete plan in place to draw minority and disadvantaged students from other parts of the city.

Great Hearts spokesman Ross Booher, a Nashville attorney, said “it is encouraging that MNPS appears to be taking steps to approve Great Heart’s charter application as was unanimously recommended by MNPS’ own charter review committee.”

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