Oct 17 2012
08:18 am

Per yesterday's Tennessean, State Department of Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman withheld $3.4 million in state funding from the allotment Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) received Monday.

The Department handed down the penalty following the MNPS board's failure to approve a charter school application from applicant Great Hearts Academy. The board had cited the applicant's lack of a "diversity plan" as the reason for their concern.

In a Metro schools statement that expressed disappointment with the reduction, the district questioned how state officials arrived at the dollar amount and its consistency with other state penalties. “Tennessee law does not address penalties in this situation,” the statement reads...

...Moving forward, the board’s Great Hearts critics aren’t ruling out a potential lawsuit against the state following the financial reprimand.

(The online petition referenced in the article, which has been linked at KnoxViews previously, may be accessed here. I was pleased to note that several KV regulars have already signed it, as have I. For whatever help it may be to MNPS, we still can.)

Tamara Shepherd's picture


Per KNS, back on September 25 (Dems voice opposition to Nashville schools fine):

...fellow Nashville Democrat Mike Stewart said lawmakers didn't envision the state holding the power to demand the approval of applications when they passed a law allowing more charter schools in Tennessee last year.

fischbobber's picture

As soon as

When the die is cast Tamara, I'm going to get your back on this issue. Right now the problem with just being a citizen with a child in public school is that we that fall into that category worry that the powers that be will come after our children to shut us up.

One day Tamara. One day.

jcgrim's picture

Is that TN law ALEC's doing?

Similar legislation that allows a state appointed panel or individual (e.g. mayor, sec of ed, etc) to override school board votes is popping up all around the country.

EricLykins's picture

Yes, and they call it the

Yes, and they call it the Education Accountability Act

Tamara Shepherd's picture


My understanding is that here in TN, the law was promoted by the TN Charter School Association--and by its director Matt Throckmorton, in particular.

I guess you're aware that Throckmorton is now promoting legislation to do away completely with local boards' say about charter schools? That he wants them approved or disapproved exclusively by an "independent" state agency?

Amazingly, even National PTA is in bed with these Throckmorton-types. NEVER would have happened just ten years ago...

Anyway, it looks like the contentious issue is starting to cause PTA to implode. Here is an Education Week article (September 2012) about strife between National PTA and its Georgia chapter, which strongly opposes the position of the national organization and these Throckmorton types.


The National Parent Teacher Association has revamped its policy to make it clear that it supports giving entities other than local school boards the right to approve charter schools, a new position the group argues will increase its ability to shape policy within the diverse and growing sector of independent public schools.

But it seems that not everyone is on board with the change in philosophy.

A state chapter of the organization, the Georgia PTA, is opposing a ballot measure that will go to voters in November to set up a state-level commission to approve charters. That puts the Georgia chapter at odds with the new national policy, according to the parent organization, which is trying to resolve the issue and to persuade state officials to remain neutral on the matter. The proposed amendment to the state's constitution would give the commission the power to create charters over the objections of local school districts.

(And you'll recall that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation started pumping $$$ into National PTA back in 2009? No link--although I've linked it before. Google it.)

Tamara Shepherd's picture


Drifting off-topic now, but...

Here is the Constitutional Amendment on Georgia's ballot to establish an "independent" state-level chartering authority.

Here is Georgia PTA's strongly-worded statement of opposition.

Tamara Shepherd's picture

In last Friday's Commercial Appeal:

October 20 guest editorial by Greg Thompson, chief executive officer of the Tennessee Charter School Incubator, Tenn. needs statewide charter school authorizer


A major obstacle to growing more of these high-quality charter schools is an authorizing process that is inherently flawed. Under current Tennessee law, only local districts can authorize public charter schools. Sounds logical, but the problem is that districts have long viewed charters as a threat to the status quo. Not surprisingly, the charter-authorizing process in Memphis, and Tennessee more broadly, has been highly politicized.

This was on full display this past year when Memphis City Schools denied more than a dozen charter school applications under the dubious claim of financial harm — despite giving those same applications high marks for their quality. Metro Nashville Public Schools recently denied a group of applications from one of the highest-performing charter organizations in the nation — Great Hearts — under the guise of lack of diversity.

bizgrrl's picture

Yikes. Can they be stopped?

Yikes. Can they be stopped?

CathyMcCaughan's picture

No. After the dust settles


After the dust settles from this and the educational assaults still to come, we will rebuild our public education system.

Tamara Shepherd's picture

More on Commercial Appeal editorial

Also from Thompson's aforementioned editorial in last Friday's Commercial Appeal was this claim:

In a recent study conducted by Stanford University, the percentage of Memphis' charters that either outperformed or performed as well as traditional public schools was an impressive 71 percent. Considering that less than 20 percent of charter schools nationally were found to be out-performing traditional public schools in a similar Stanford-led study, that is a remarkable track record, and it points to the wisdom in our state's approach to adopting best practices (and discarding what does not work) from charter efforts in other parts of the country.

However, as previously discussed here at KV, an April 2011 report online at the Department of Education's site, the Tennessee Charter Schools Report 2011, gives a stark look at how a growing number of charter schools statewide is fueling economic resegregation within the state's public school system.

A two-page list of the state's 40 existing charter schools broken down by school system (pdf pages 19 and 20) reveals that the resegregation trend is most evident within the school system to have hosted the largest number of charter schools for the longest period, namely Memphis.

Against an Economically Disadvantaged (ED) rate of 84.6% of students within the Memphis City Schools system (per the 2011 State Report Card), 21 of that system's 25 charter schools reported school-level ED rates lower than the system rate.

Seventy-one percent of students in Memphis charter schools are performing as well or better than their peers in the city's traditional schools?

And 84% of Memphis charter schools (21 of 25 schools) enjoy lower percentages of Economically Disadvantaged student populations than their traditional school peers?

Do you suppose there's any corelation here??? Nah, couldn't be!

Andy Axel's picture

The Nashville area Chamber of

The Nashville area Chamber of Commerce is (weirdly) getting into the charter act...

In a sharply worded letter hand-delivered to school board members Friday and Saturday, the chamber expressed “deep disappointment” over the district’s deduction of state funds, a penalty Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman carried out last week following the board’s September rejection of Great Hearts’ charter school application.

The chamber, a key partner with Metro schools that had previously stayed out of the feud, characterized the board’s “mishandling” of its fiduciary responsibility as “especially galling” for those in the business community who have advocated for tax increases to “fully fund” the district's budget.

“While we believe that all the parties share some blame for the recent impasse, ultimately the accountability for the school system resides with the Metropolitan Board of Education,” reads the letter, penned by businessman Orrin Ingram, who chairs the chamber’s Education 2020 program.

“Accordingly, the school board is responsible for the restoration of the $3.4 million to MNPS from the state in a way that does not waste further effort and taxpayer money.”

Ingram, an affluent philanthropist and CEO of Ingram Industries Inc., concludes with a pointed handwritten note to school board chair Cheryl Mayes: “Until this issue is resolved and the $3.4 million is reinstated, my time, money and support will stay on the sideline!”

Translated: MNPS is being "encouraged" by the Nashville Chamber to go hat in hand back to Great Hearts and ask them to re-apply for a charter.

Now there's a great plotline for the writers at ABC's new Nashville TV series to explore......

Tamara Shepherd's picture


"A" charter?

Great Hearts wanted to open five charters--and in areas other than where the MNPS board indicated in their RFP that they (the school system) wanted to open them.

And this wasn't just a penalty Huffman "carried out" (per Andy's link), either.

It was a penalty not specified in law, MNPS said, that Huffman pulled out of his a**.

Andy Axel's picture

The one that the Nashville

The one that the Nashville Chamber appears to be supporting in particular is the one that would affect West Nashville. That has been the most contentious one, especially in wake of the Hillwood/Pearl-Cohn resegregation case. That's the particular bee in the bonnet of Orrin Ingram at the moment.

Tamara Shepherd's picture


Possibly you missed an "episode" or two in this saga, Andy, because there's nothing at all "weird" about the Tennessee/U.S. Chamber simply keeping their eyes on the prize--which is, of course, taxpayer dollars redirected into the pockets of their member businesses.

Confirm that prior "episode" within the (brief) text of U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Statement on Reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA): Guidelines for Strengthening the Law (last page), which sets as one priority to:

Increase competition: American businesses excel at innovation and should be allowed to compete for Federal funds to serve students and support schools, districts, and states.

One more recent "episode" you may have missed was this guest editorial, by former Bush appointee and current director of the U. S. Chamber's Institute for a Competitive Workforce (ICW), Margaret Spellings, published in the Memphis Commercial Appeal just four days prior to the above linked Thompson editorial to have run last Friday.

Actually, the U. S. Chamber/ICW are aggressively campaigning this fall for "reforms" (to ultimately benefit their member businesses) in multiple urban school districts, including El Paso TX, Sarasota FL, La Vista NE, and Austin TX, to name a few.

(And did you know that Knoxville's Mike Edwards is now on the board of the U. S. Chamber? See page 22, here--and look for an equally aggressive ICW campaign in our burg soon enough, I expect.)

Andy Axel's picture

Hand-delivering these notes

Hand-delivering these notes on a weekend to MNPS board members by process servers does seem a trifle weird to me. It's a fairly public escalation which is somewhat atypical for the Nashville Chamber.

Tamara Shepherd's picture


Ah, I had missed (in that very first paragraph, no less) that the Chamber hand delivered these notes and on a weekend.

Yeah, that's a bit much, even for those guys.

Andy Axel's picture

When the going gets tough,

When the going gets tough, the tough hire lobbyists.

Tamara Shepherd's picture

Update 10/24

In today's Tennessean: Nashville school board appears split on filing suit over charter penalty

Per the article, developments are:

On Tuesday, the board received a letter of support from the Metro Nashville Education Association, the union representing the district’s teachers.

(School board member Amy) Frogge also produced a state attorney general’s opinion that backs her position (that the board did not act illegally in denying the Great Hearts charter application).

An excerpt from the Metro Nashville Education Association's letter to the board applauds them and assures them that "the oath of office you took does not mention taking orders from wealthy and unelected members of the business community."

Stick's picture

Let's hope they put up a

Let's hope they put up a fight!

Stick's picture

Great Hearts: Texas Style

The wealthy need segregated charters too!

Tamara Shepherd's picture

Election result: GA approves state charter school authorizer

I shared earlier in this thread:

The National Parent Teacher Association has revamped its policy to make it clear that it supports giving entities other than local school boards the right to approve charter schools, a new position the group argues will increase its ability to shape policy within the diverse and growing sector of independent public schools.

But it seems that not everyone is on board with the change in philosophy.

A state chapter of the organization, the Georgia PTA, is opposing a ballot measure that will go to voters in November to set up a state-level commission to approve charters. That puts the Georgia chapter at odds with the new national policy...

Unfortunately, the Chattanooga Times-Free Press reports tonight:

An amendment that allows the state to form local charter schools is leading in Georgia.

With most precincts reporting, 58 percent of voters support the ballot measure, and 42 percent opposed.

The amendment will allow the state to re-establish a commission that could grant charters to schools. Local school boards will have no authority over schools formed...

Tamara Shepherd's picture

Follow up: Funders behind GA approval of state chater authorizer

Per my above post made before Georgia's polls closed on election night, the state did, indeed, approve a Constitutional amendment to create a state charter school authorizer able not to override but to circumvent completely the state's local school boards.

Organizations to have opposed the measure included the Georgia School Board Association, the Georgia Education Association, and the Georgia PTA (in defiance of the position of its parent organization, National PTA).

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that the campaign "drew millions in out-of-state money from big-money donors," much of that funneled through the organization most supportive of the measure, the innocuous-sounding Families for Better Public Schools (FBPS). reveals who some of the biggest of those donors to FBPS were, which included:

Edison Learning Inc.--This for-profit education management corporation based in Tennessee gave $2,000 to the group.

National Heritage Academies--This Michigan-based for-profit company that manages charter schools gave $25,000 to FPBS. Its chief executive J.C. Huizenga gave another $25,000.

Charter Schools USA--Based in Florida, Charter Schools USA, which bills itself as “oldest, largest and fastest-growing education management companies” in America, gave $50,000 to FPBS.

K12 Inc.--K12 Inc. is a massive online education company. It donated $100,000 to FPBS.

The single biggest donation came from Alice Walton, a Wal-Mart heir. She gave a quarter million dollars to FBPS.

Stick's picture

Families for Better Public Schools

I have the campaign contribution disclosure report in my hand... Alice Walton gave $350,000 to this one group to promote this amendment. Students First gave $250,000. There is a long list of corporate donors all of whom stand to make money off of this.

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