FSSD board discusses charter schools, school vouchers
By Carole Robinson, Staff Writer
Franklin Special School District board members had plenty to celebrate during their last scheduled meeting of the year, as they applauded the achievements of several students and teachers, however discussions around two resolutions regarding possible state legislation temporarily tempered the gaiety.
A first-grader’s artwork, two eighth graders’ perfect score on a college prep test, a seventh grade student who demonstrated extraordinary character during a wrestling match, a championship soccer team, two students who were invited to perform in a national honors choir and two invited to perform with a Middle Tennessee vocal group, a teacher who will work with the State Department of Education to improve at risk schools and another who was published in a national education publication were given special commendations for their talents and endeavors.
Charter schools discussed
Charter schools legislation and vouchers, both slated to be topics of discussion in the 108th General Assembly, raised the ire of several board members looking to protect their home turf.
As per the Tennessee Charter School Act, charter schools are public schools operated by independent, non-profit governing bodies that must include parents. Students in charter schools are measured against the same academic standards as students in non-charter public schools. Currently, local school boards monitor the academic and financial performance of charter schools in their district, but charter school may be allowed waivers from the state in order to achieve specific standards.
The possibility that current legislation may be amended to take away local boards’ involvement in charter schools authorization and accountability did not set well with the five FSSD board members in attendance. After a passionate discussion they unanimously endorsed a resolution opposing and legislation designed “to create a statewide or alternative authorizer for charter schools that would bypass locally elected boards of education.”
By bypassing local school board authorization, FSSD board members feared the process could provide a means for disgruntled parents to create charter schools in districts such as FSSD and Williamson County Schools, where schools are meeting and surpassing state standards and requirements.
“Legislation could make it much easier to get charter schools started,” said FSSD superintendent, Dr. David Snowden. “Charter schools have been in existence in Tennessee for 10 years so its not something they can’t develop now, if they work with local boards.”
Accountability and funding are also issues that stuck in board members’ craw.
Charter schools use district funds received from the state for each child enrolled. Snowden told the board, under proposed legislation, “without authorization and accountability, [charter schools] still get local funds.”
The legislation would usurp the responsibilities entrusted to local boards by their constituents, Board chair, Sherry Badger said.
“We have very direct accountability [to the community] on a very regular basis,” Badger added. “Who will they be accountable to?”
This year, the General Assembly will also tackle legislation to create a voucher program, which would allow students to use public education funds to pay for private school tuition. Concerned about the affect of the voucher program on FSSD, board members unanimously approved a resolution opposing “any legislation or similar effort to create a voucher program in Tennessee that would divert money intended for public education to private schools.”
“I am having trouble finding a balance between local views and our best interest and the best interest of education nationwide,” said Tim Stillings. Locally I don’t like vouchers, “But I do see their value on a national level and in some areas, I’m open to the idea that it might be good.”
Under the pending legislation, if parents find their child in a failing school, they may use state BEP funds toward enrollment tuition in a private school, Snowden said.
“Most of our at risk students come from low-income families,” he added. “BEP money is not enough [money] to get them into a private school – so what do they do? If they are in a middle class family they may have the means to make that gap.”
Badger voiced strong opposition to taking tax money from local public schools and putting it into private schools.
“I can’t see how it can best serve the community in which we live,” she said. “That discussion beyond our state and district is a good one, but I’m concerned about what that it doesn’t impact our district.”
According to the resolution, “Vouchers eliminate public accountability” because private schools don’t face state-approved academic standard, make budgets public, do not publicly report student achievement and don’t face federal accountability requirements.
Private schools often have admission requirements and are not required to admit those who don’t meet those requirements or keep those who do no maintain standards – academic or behavioral.
Both resolutions may be viewed on the district website, www.fssd.org.
Posted on: 12/12/2012