Will Charter Schools Drive Nashville Off Fiscal Cliff?

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Amy Frogge
  • Amy Frogge
Is Nashville ready to pay higher property taxes for charter schools? That's the question school board members are asking after looking at the district's preliminary operating budget for the coming year. It adds $44 million for next year—$15 million of which goes to new charter schools.

At least the school board authorized these charters. More are on the way—whether the school board likes it or not. In retaliation for the board's denial of Great Hearts charter last year, which upset many of her Green Hills constituents, House Speaker Beth Harwell is pushing legislation creating a state authorizer.

A new draft up today in the House Education Committee creates a nine-member state board—appointed by the governor and the speakers of the House and Senate—to hear appeals of charter denials across Tennessee. Whatever the state board decides is final. And even though the elected school board has voted against opening that charter, taxpayers in that district are stuck with the tab for running it.

School board member Amy Frogge is worried Harwell's power play could drive Nashville right off the fiscal cliff. At yesterday's meeting, she raised the prospect of property tax increases to pay for all the new charter schools.

“What comes to mind for me, just from a fiscal perspective, is a strong potential for a tax increase,” she said. In comments to Pith, here's more from Frogge:

This legislation amounts to taxation without representation. It removes control of our schools from locally elected officials and places it in the hands of an appointed board at the state level. Under this bill, a voter in Memphis will have as much say about what schools open in Green Hills as a voter here in Nashville. The state will be able to open as many new schools as it wishes while Nashville taxpayers pay for them. Nashvillians will have absolutely no say-so about the performance of the state schools that we are funding and no ability to close them. At the very least, we need assurances that state-opened schools don't drive us off the fiscal cliff. The cost of operating charter schools is quite high, and this could be the king of unfunded mandates.

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