A bill reforming the Charter school process emerged from the House Education Committee on Wednesday and will move forward to the Government Operations Committee after receiving a 13-9 vote for passage. The legislation was initiated by Governor Bill Lee and is intended to streamline the charter school approval process while also improving the quality of the state’s charter school options. Charter schools are public schools, though operated independently from local school districts.
The charter school legislation creates a nine-member commission, appointed by the Governor, to review appeals of charter applications denied by local school districts. Governor Lee has indicated that providing more charter school options, along with Education Savings Accounts that will permit more choices for parents and students in the worst performing school districts in the state, are the best path to improving the quality of education for thousands of Tennessee students.
Five Republicans, Jim Coley (Bartlett), Mark Cochran (Englewood), Kirk Haston (Lobelville), Chris Hurt (Halls) and Terry Lynn Weaver (Lancaster), joined with four Democrats in opposing the bill. Cochran explained that while he is not philosophically opposed to charter schools he felt “rushed” to vote for this bill. Cochran had reportedly pledged his vote for the bill before surprisingly reversing course.
Rep. Tom Leatherwood (R-Arlington) voted against the legislation in sub-committee, but supported the bill after the independent commission was added to review denials of charter applications by local school boards.
One lobbyist supporting the bill expressed surprise at Cochran’s flip and that Weaver opposed the legislation, when she was expected to support the Governor’s proposal. “The Governor and House Leadership may have to play some hardball, particularly with first-term Republican members, to let them know seriously they are taking the Charter and ESA votes as a test of support for Governor Lee’s agenda.” The charter legislation passed 8-0 in the Senate Education Committee and also heads to Government Operations next.
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