Harwell's Revenge: Will Legislature Jeopardize School Funding to Make Great Hearts Happy?



How many ways can you polish a turd? House Speaker Beth Harwell's bill to make Great Hearts Academies happy has undergone another revision.

In the beginning, it applied only to Memphis and Nashville, then it went statewide, and now it covers only Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, Chattanooga and, oddly, little Hardeman County. All have at least one failing school so, in the House empress's infinite wisdom, they must succumb under her bill to a new state board that becomes the ultimate authorizer of charter schools in Tennessee.

This bill is a real stinker—stripping power from democratically elected school boards and giving it to hand-picked champions of market-based education—and no one really likes it except Harwell, Mayor Karl Dean and all the West Nashvillians who want a charter school of their own. It's their way to stick it to the Metro school board for rejecting Great Hearts last year. If it weren't the speaker's bill, it would have died a long time ago. But now with the session almost over, it's made it to the House floor and it's up for a vote this afternoon in the Senate Finance Committee.

Update: The Finance Committee postponed the bill until tomorrow because one of its critics, Maryville Sen. Doug Overbey, didn't make today's meeting.

Tom Humphrey details some of what's wrong with this bill. According to the Tennessee Education Association's Jim Wrye, it "would open the door for multiple charter schools, entitled under current law to state funding, to siphon off taxpayer dollars from public schools, including money for infrastructure 'even if they’re operating out of a church basement.'"

What's more, "the board making decisions is designed to have a 'pro-charter bias,' assuring that local boards will often be overridden."

Lucas Johnson covers more of the education bills still up for debate in the legislature, including one to allow for-profit charter schools.


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