Playing hardball over a Tennessee charter school

 


Kevin Huffman (Erik Schelzig/AP)

Well, they went ahead and did it. Tennessee education officials actually lived up to their petulant threat to withhold $3.4 million from Nashville public schools as punishment for refusing to allow a controversial charter school to open.

The state money that should have gone to Nashville for October didn’t show up this week as it would have had Nashville officials caved to state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman and other officials and approved an application from Great Hearts Academies, the Tennessean newspaper reported. Since they had good reasons for denying the application in the first place, they decided to stick to their original decision.

Great Hearts, which runs 12 charter schools in Arizona, wanted to open a school in a wealthy neighborhood in Nashville and later open four more schools elsewhere in the city. (It initially wanted to open five schools at once. ) Nashville board members were concerned that the first school would appeal to affluent white families from around the city rather than attract a diverse student body.

The Huffman-influenced state Board of Education in July told the Metro Nashville School Board to approve the application if Great Hearts met specific condition — including the use of certified teachers — but Nashville said those conditions weren’t met.

Huffman, a big champion of school choice (and Michelle Rhee’s former husband), told Nashville they could lose $3.4 million if they didn’t acquiesce. Now, critics of Great Hearts are considering suing the state over the money, according to the Tennessean.

Even if Huffman and his ally Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam hadn’t in the past hailed the virtues of local school control and then proceeded to bash Nashville for trying to exercise local school control, this episode would be ugly.

The money that didn’t go to Nashville was slated to be used for, among other things, student transportation, classroom maintenance and utilities. State officials see these funds as being non-classroom administrative funds but it doesn’t take a genius to see how students will be affected by this.

Beyond that, the continuing push for “school choice” by reformers ignores the fact, as Jeff Bryant wrote in this post,  that “there’s nothing in the essentials of choice that guarantee better outcomes for the least served families and every indicator that choice further enables better-off, more empowered families to game the system.”

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · October 19, 2012