Nationally Recognized School Funding Experts Pair with State Advocates to Advise Charter School Leaders

Afton Partners, a national organization specializing in school funding and education policy, has announced via social media a new partnership with the Tennessee State Collaborative for Reforming Education (SCORE) and The Tennessee Charter School Center (TCSC). The stated purpose of the budding collaboration is to help Tennessee’s charter school leaders better understand the operational and financial implications of Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA) – the state’s new funding formula for public schools.

TISA was passed by legislators during the last general assembly and is slated to replace the current funding formula for the 2023-2024 school year. Touted as a formula that funds students over systems, the bill establishes a base funding rate of $6,860 per pupil, then distributes additional funding for students considered as being economically disadvantaged, having unique learning needs, or living in rural or impoverished communities. Tennessee charter schools are considered public schools and therefore receive funding through their charter authorizer at the same rate as traditional schools.

Afton, along with SCORE and TCSC, intends to be a consistent, timely, and accurate source of information for the state’s charter schools in regard to TISA legislation and rules, as well as local education agencies (LEA) guidelines and requirements. LEA’s are local school districts.

Furthermore, they intend to elevate key adjustments to state and LEA policy and practices that will support funding fairness and transparency. Ultimately they seek to empower charter school leaders to strategically plan for the use of the incremental funding they are set to receive.

According to its website, Afton regularly partners with public agencies and nonprofits in K-12 education, workforce development, early childhood, and human services, to build capacity, strengthen governance, and ensure resources are aligned and equitably distributed. They prioritize taking on initiatives with the potential to rectify racial and social opportunity gaps nationwide since 2011. The organization initially worked in Tennessee with the Tennessee Achievement School District (TNASD) in 2012 to plan and scale the finance and accounting function for the startup school district, and has since worked with numerous individual districts across the state.

SCORE was founded as an independent, nonprofit, and nonpartisan advocacy and research institution in 2009 by Senator Bill Frist, former U.S. Senate Majority Leader. They are financially supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and have enjoyed an influential status in Tennessee education policy initiatives over the last decade.

Since February 2010, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has granted more than $20 million to the “Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education.”

SCORE is considered a driving force behind TISA and publicly celebrated its passage:

“We supported TISA because it follows the evidence about how funding can be used to help schools and communities meet the unique learning needs of every student,” SCORE President and CEO David Mansouri said. “The additional state funding from TISA will help students in so many ways as districts invest the money to address achievement gaps, provide intensive early literacy support, and better support students living in rural communities or concentrated poverty. TISA also will improve reporting and transparency, so that we have confidence in our strategy and information about how to continually improve.”

The Tennessee Charter School Center as it exists today was created in 2013 with the merging of two separate charter support groups – The Tennessee Charter School Incubator and the Tennessee Charter Schools Association. Since its inception, under the leadership of Maya Buggs, they have served as the primary charter support organization for the growing charter sector in Tennessee. 

It was recently reported that advisor to former Governor Bredesen and former MNPS board member Will Pinkston, a Democrat, 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 goal of the organization is to help public school district decisionmakers “understand the financial stress that taxpayer-funded privately run charter schools place on the Volunteer State’s chronically underfunded public schools.”

Until recently, charter schools have been limited to the state’s largest urban districts – Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Knoxville. However, two new schools have been approved for Rutherford County. Last month the recently created State Public Charter Commission heard appeals from charter schools whose applications were denied by local authorities in Madison, Sumner, Williamson, and Montgomery counties. Despite the commission rejecting the majority of appeals set before them, some state legislators feel that the commission is simply a vehicle for establishing more charter schools across the state. Governor Lee during his tenure has repeatedly stated his commitment to parental choice, often championing charter schools as being a key component of that commitment.

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TC Weber is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. He also writes the blog Dad Gone Wild. Follow TC on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected] He’s the proud parent of two public school children and the spouse of a public school teacher.
Photo “Teacher and Students” by Tennessee Charter School Center.



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One Thought to “Nationally Recognized School Funding Experts Pair with State Advocates to Advise Charter School Leaders”

  1. Joe Blow

    Wow! A state funding scheme that requires an independent company to interpret! Did anyone else see this coming?

    The whole Little Billy Lee makeover of schools funding is an adventure in science fiction. The only guarantee going into the process was that it would cost taxpayers more for a very failing system. There has been money thrown at the problems for years and years but there has been no accountability. A word unknown to state and local government – especially local school districts.