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Dems Say GOP Rejecting Local Gov’t Control In Charter Moves

by Andrea Zelinski on September 26, 2012

Democrats on Capitol Hill Tuesday accused Republicans of abandoning their mantra of local government control in their handling of a proposed charter school for Nashville.

Fired up over the Haslam administration’s fining Metro schools because its school board rejected the charter school application, Democrats said GOP leaders had adopted for the “big government” mindset they purport to detest. Still, Democrats say they, too, are no stranger to falling back on government oversight.

“I’m not saying there’s not some times when the federal government should step in or the state government should not step in and overrule local government, but they’re doing it on a pretty consistent level up here now when one time that was something they were really opposed to,” said House Democratic Caucus Leader Mike Turner, of Old Hickory, following a press conference with four other local Democratic legislators and candidates.

The state Department of Education last week slapped Metro Nashville Public Schools with what amounts to a $3.4 million fine for ignoring the state Board of Education’s order to approve a charter school application from Arizona-based Great Hearts Academies. The Metro schools board voted twice against the state board’s order to OK the proposal, saying that the school planned for the affluent West End neighborhood lacked a diversity plan.

Members of the minority party — which has little pull on Capitol Hill — said they’d like to see the state continue to meet and work with the school district in hopes of dodging the fine. Joining the press conference were Rep. Sherry Jones, Rep. Brenda Gilmore, Rep. Mike Stewart and Phillip North, a Democratic candidate for state Senate.

Stewart, of Nashville, said he takes issue with how the administration has carried out the charter school law. He said the Legislature never meant to give the state the power to ultimately approve charter schools against a local school district’s will.

But the section in law giving the state such authority predates Haslam and was passed in 2002 when Democrats still had control of the House of Representatives.

According to the Tennessee Charter School Act:

“If the state board finds that the local board’s decision was contrary to the best interests of the pupils, school district, or community, the state board shall remand such decision to the local board of education with written instructions for approval of the charter. The decision of the state board shall be final and not subject to appeal. The (local school district), however, shall be the chartering authority.”

Turner asserts that the Metro school board followed the state law to a “t,” and says the charter school operators never produced a satisfactory diversity plan, as outlined by the state Board of Education.

The state Board seems to disagree. The board sent out a statement backing up the Haslam administration’s decision after news broke of the state fine.

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