NASHVILLE (AP) – The sponsor of a proposal that seeks to change the way certain charter schools are authorized said Wednesday the measure is needed to continue education reform in Tennessee.
The legislation sponsored by Republican Sen. Dolores Gresham of Somerville passed the Senate Finance Committee 7-3 and was sent to the full Senate.
The advancing measure is one of at least three versions that have been proposed. The previous version sought to create a state panel to authorize charter schools for five counties where there are failing schools.
Those counties include more than 330,000 students in the state's four largest cities: Davidson, Hamilton, Knox and Shelby. Hardeman County also would be affected.
Currently, local school boards decide whether to authorize a charter application. There are currently 48 charters operating in Tennessee.
Under the latest proposal, the state Board of Education would be able to overrule local school board decisions on charter applications in the lowest-performing school districts.
The bill also gives an applicant approved by the Board of Education 30 days to return to the school district if the two can reach an agreement.
"It's a way to get there," Gresham said. "And we're going to get there: a world class system of education in Tennessee."
Members of the committee who at one time opposed the proposal appeared to be comfortable with the latest version. For one, the cost to create the panel was close to $240,000, where the new proposal drops the amount to $199,000.
The advancing proposal also would provide a more detailed hearing process before a decision is made on an application, as well as require some oversight from the state Department of Education.
"While it's not perfect, I think it's a good piece of legislation," said committee vice chairman Bo Watson, R-Chattanooga.
However, Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle didn't seem too pleased with the measure, saying "this cake is not baked."
The Memphis Democrat, whose city contains 69 failing schools, was unsuccessful in passing an amendment that sought to place a charter school within two miles of a failing school.
"We want them located where the people are who need them," he said.
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