The Tennessee Legislature this week approved a measure that proposes creating a nine-member statewide commission to authorize new charter schools and oversee their subsequent performance.
Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, a school-choice proponent, has been promoting the legislation.
Under the provisions of Senate Bill 796, the “Public Charter School Commission” would act as an appeals board for hearing challenges to a local board of education’s decision to reject a charter school application. If the commission reverses the local board’s decision and subsequently approves the charter school, then the commission members would thereafter serve as that charter school’s oversight authority.
The legislation passed by decisive margins in both General Assembly chambers — 61-37 in the House and 27-3 in the Senate. State Reps. Kelly Keisling, R-Byrdstown, and John Mark Windle, D-Livingston, were the only Upper Cumberland lawmakers voting against the bill.
The new commission would supersede the charter-school oversight responsibilities currently administered by the State Board of Education, according to one of the legislation’s primary Senate sponsors, Germantown Republican Brian Kelsey.
The State BOE would, however, ultimately oversee the Charter School Commission.
“Most public charter schools in our state are offering a great education to our lowest income children for free,” Kelsey said in a press release. “We are hopeful that this legislation will encourage more high-quality schools to open in Tennessee.”
Kelsey predicts that the measure will create an environment wherein charter schools are held to higher standards. Senate Bill 796 will also ensure that “low-performing charters” are more effectively weeded out, he said.