During his tenure on the MNPS School Board, former Bredesen advisor Will Pinkston worked with a laser-like focus to prevent the growth of charter schools in Tennessee. Though he is no longer a board member, he is leading a new effort to continue that fight by drawing attention to the financial cost charter schools impose on local school districts. Pinkston, a Democrat, has joined forces with former Wilson County Schools Director Donna Wright, a Republican, to create a new nonprofit, nonpartisan group advocating for traditional public schools.
The stated focus of the new group is to shed light on the fiscal cost of charter schools on local districts’ budgets. Visitors to the fledgling group’s website will find a series of research studies including one by Derek W. Black. Black is considered one of the nation’s leading experts in public education funding and is the Ernest F. Hollings Chair in Constitutional Law and director of the Constitutional Law Center at the University of South Carolina. He argues that charter schools have a negative impact on the budgets of local school districts due to fixed costs.
In the wake of Tennessee’s newly established charter school commission issuing its first round of rulings on operators’ appeals of local decisions, charter schools have once again become a political hot-button issue in the state of Tennessee. Previously relegated to the large urban centers of the state, the commission is seen by many as a vehicle to spread charter schools to suburban and rural districts. In its first 13 cases, the commission overruled three application denials for Nashville and denied six in Memphis, Clarksville, Brentwood, Hendersonville, and Fayette County. Four applicants, including three from the controversial Hillsdale college affiliated schools, withdrew their appeal before the commission could rule. Those schools retain the option to apply next year but must start the process all over at the local level.
Pinkston, ironically a founding member of the governance board for local charter school Nashville Prep, has long been a thorn in the side of those who wish to proliferate charter schools in Nashville. Where he once saw the promise in charter schools he soon came to have a different opinion – one that by his own admission put him “on the front line in the war over public education in America.” The former journalist has long relished a reputation as a bruising political operative who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. His tenure with the MNPS school board ended prematurely with his resignation letter citing his belief that the first African-American superintendent in the history of Nashville was being treated in a dishonest and unfair manner as a primary motivator. Charges that were disputed by his fellow board members and muted by subsequent revelations.
Since leaving public service Pinkston has been relatively quiet, choosing to focus on his private consultancy firm.
Pinkston’s co-leader, Donna Wright, recently retired after 40 years of service in the field of education. In 2020, while serving as superintendent of Wilson County Schools, she was recognized as the 2020 TN Superintendent of the Year by the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents. Since retiring she has become a vocal advocate for public schools and teachers. Over email, Wright tells Axios, “Whether you’re opposed to charters or support charters, there are clear limitations and financial impacts on any school district’s budget. Fixed costs like transportation, operations, maintenance, and utilities all have to be maintained by school districts, regardless of whether they’re rural, urban, or suburban,”
In order to better illuminate those financial effects, the Charter Fiscal Impact website has included a tool that compares the per-pupil funding each local government receives from the state. Per-pupil state funding varies from district to district based on a local government’s capacity to generate tax dollars for education. Organizers say the hope is that greater clarity will lead to greater resources for students.
– – –