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Looney: Would-be charter schools face uphill climb in county

If talk of charter schools in Williamson County has been on a slow simmer since a letter of intent for such a school was filed recently, then it could reach hot-topic level before the month is out.

It was announced at Monday night’s County Commission meeting that the issue of charter schools will be fully discussed at the next Education Committee meeting scheduled for Monday, Feb. 25.

“We encourage the School Board and all the County Commissioners to be here to discuss the pros and cons (of charter schools) and to try to educate everybody,” said District 8 Commissioner Jack Walton, who chaired Monday night’s meeting. “Everyone is invited to attend.”

Charter schools were the subject of a short presentation Monday by Dr. Mike Looney, superintendent of Williamson County Schools. He had been asked by some of the commissioners to present facts in general about charter schools, which are comprised of primary and secondary schools that receive public funds and may also benefit from private funding.

“I’m not here tonight to debate the merits of charter schools, but to go over the law,” Looney told the Commissioners and the small audience in attendance.

Though charter schools are subject to some of the regulations that apply to all public schools, but have greater flexibility in many regards. They are populated by students who attend them by choice, and the schools are expected to adhere to performance benchmarks.

There are no charter schools in Williamson County, while there are 17 in Nashville that are either currently operating our will open in the fall. For the rest of the state, there are 31 in Memphis and five in Chattanooga.

A letter of intent to establish a charter school in Williamson County was filed with the county Board of Education earlier this month from Freddie Lee Haddox of Franklin. The school would be called the Robert Baker Owen Institute of Education and would be located on a farm on Coleman Road. It would focus on farming for students in grades 7-12. A full application will need to be submitted to the board by April 1.

In pointing out that the county’s school district already has agriculture programs at Page High and Fairview High, Looney said charter schools could face long odds of existing in Williamson County.

“From my perspective,” he said after the meeting, “a charter school is going to have a hard time making an argument as to why something like that is needed in Williamson County when we’re out-competing public, private and charter schools across the state.”

Posted on: 2/12/2013


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