The state Department of Education received 23 letters of intent from charter school operators seeking to open new schools in eight districts across Tennessee. The deadline to apply for approval for the 2023-24 academic year was December 3. Formal applications are due February 1, 2023.
American Classical Education (ACE), an operator of charter schools that is supported by Hillsdale College, which licenses the curriculum for free and provides training and other resources, submitted letters of intent to five counties. Three of those letters are re-submissions to districts (Madison, Montgomery, and Rutherford County) that denied their application during the last application process. In addition to the three, letters of intent were submitted in Robertson and Maury County.
American Classical was among the schools that applied for an appeal with the recently established Tennessee State Charter School Commission (TSCSC). Ultimately, all the Hillsdale affiliated schools rescinded their appeals after a request for additional time was denied.
Last year, the schools faced opposition from both politicians and education advocates over their conservative curriculum and disparaging remarks made toward Colleges of Education by Hillsdale President Larry Arn at a private function. However, at the local level, the applications were denied, in part, due to questions about the school’s ability to serve at-risk students and those with disabilities. ACE say they plan to address those two items in this year’s application.
In addition to the intent of American Classical Academy to resubmit in Jackson, Madison County, a second operator, Jackson Leadership Academy, has also indicated that it plans to apply. There are no public charter school options available to district families in Jackson-Montgomery.
Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS), home to 32 public charter schools representing more than 12,800 students, received five letters of intent. Saber Stem Academy is reapplying after being denied by MNPS previously. Letters were submitted from existing charter operators, Nashville Collegiate Prep and LEAD Public Schools, to open a high school and a new elementary school in Southeast Davidson County.
Two potential new charter operators have decided to compete in the growing Tennessee education marketplace. The two are hoping to open the Pathways in Education High School and the Invictus Nashville Charter School.
However, MNPS has not approved a new operator in recent years. Seven of those rejected have gone on to win state-level appeals, with four operating in Nashville as part of the TSCSC network. The other three will begin operations in the coming years. This year has seen the district deny established public schools from participating in the district’s annual celebration of schools festival and limited the participation of charter schools in middle school athletic events.
Shelby County leads the state in receiving letters of intent. Ten applicants indicated their desire to pursue establishing new schools, potentially adding to the already existing 57 charter schools which serve approximately 16,000 students – just over 17 percent of all students enrolled in Memphis-Shelby County Schools (MSCS).
Earlier in the year, the district considered closing four existing operators. KIPP Memphis Academy Middle, KIPP Memphis Collegiate Middle, Arrow Academy of Excellence, and Memphis Business Academy Hickory Hill Middle had all landed on the state’s list of priority schools for the 2021-22 school year, placing them in the bottom five percent academically based on recent achievement data. State law grants charter school authorizers, such as MSCS, the power to shut down schools that appear on the priority list for the first time, though it is not required.
Ultimately, the schools were spared when board members voted 7-0 to give all four schools a chance to improve. (Vice Chair Sheleah Harris and board member Kevin Woods were absent.)
Memphis was also considering closing two other charter schools – Granville T. Woods Academy of Innovation and Memphis Delta Prep – due to the schools landing on the priority list for two consecutive years. That consideration has been temporarily withdrawn due to the schools filing a lawsuit against MSCS. The suit alleges that the district is using incomplete testing data to substantiate the proposed closures. Preliminary hearings were held earlier this week.
Knox County has two charter school operators looking to open. Prep Public Schools is looking to expand the organization’s Chattanooga Prep concept to Knoxville along with proposed operators of a K-5 school called the Academy that would serve an opening enrollment of just 12 students. Currently, there is one public charter school, Emerald Academy, serving 438 students in Knoxville.
Hamilton County, Tennessee’s fourth-largest district, did not receive any letters of intent. For the 2022-23 school year, there are four public charter schools serving 1,206 students in Chattanooga, TN.
Complicating the approval process this year is the state’s move to a new school funding formula, Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA). Previously, under the BEP formula, charter schools received the same per-student funding as those students enrolled in the district’s traditional schools. Under TISA, that rule stays in place, but individual students generate a different amount as calculated through an established base rate, plus additional weights contingent on a student’s unique learning needs based on last year’s figures.
This presents a challenge for potential new operators due to them not having data from the previous year. Exactly how that will be addressed is still under consideration and will be taken up further after the first of the year. The Tennessee Department of Education is expected to release a handbook offering clarification.
The submission of a letter of intent is the first step potential charter operators must take before submitting their formal application.
List of Counties receiving Letters of Intent for Charter Schools
- American Classical Academy Rutherford
- American Classical Academy Robertson
- American Classical Academy Maury
- American Classical Academy Montgomery
- Jackson Leadership Academy
- American Classical Academy Madison
- Nashville Collegiate Prep High School
- Pathways in Education – Nashville
- Invictus Nashville Charter School
- Saber STEM Academy
- LEAD Southeast Elementary School
- Pathways in Education – Memphis
- BridgeWell Preparatory Academy
- Tennessee Volunteer Military Academy – Memphis
- Tennessee Workforce Academy
- Empower Memphis Career and College Prep Charter School
- Memphis Grizzlies Prep STEAM School for Girls
- TGAND Academy
- Harwood Academy at University of Memphis
- Stellar University Charter School
- Tennessee Volunteer Military Academy – Millington
- Knoxville Preparatory School
- The Academy
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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 Mikhail Nilov.