A bill that would broaden access to charter schools in Tennessee is in jeopardy.
Following a Tennessee House Democratic Caucus vote, the House Education Committee voted to adjourn  for this year on Wednesday — without taking a vote on the proposed bill. A companion charter school bill has already passed in the state Senate in a floor vote.
The committee could still be called back into session by the chair of the committee, but the caucus’s stance is nonetheless considered a setback by bill supporters.
Mayor Karl Dean, a public advocate for the bill, said in a statement Wednesday that he is “disappointed.”
“I am disappointed, but my resolve and my sense of urgency have not altered,” Dean said. “This is something I am going to continue to push for and continue to talk with our legislators about until we get right.”
Dean addressed members of the House K-12 subcommittee on the bill’s behalf. He quoted from a March speech given by President Barack Obama, when Obama told members of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce that states with restrictive charter school laws need to make changes.
The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce has also advocated for the bill. In a recent letter addressed to members of the Davidson County State Legislative Delegation, Orrin Ingram — president and CEO of Ingram Industries Inc., and chair of the Chamber’s Education 2020 Committee — asked that delegation members support a House bill that would make Tennessee a friendlier place for charter schools.
Marc Hill, the Chamber’s chief education officer, said Wednesday that he believes there is hope for the legislation. The Chamber will continue to talk with delegation members, he said.
“We’re optimistic our Nashville delegation will work in the next week to take a step back from making charter schools a partisan issue,” Hill said. “We think there’s room to find a compromise that addresses needs of children and families.”
A vocal opponent to the bill is the Tennessee Education Association, the state teachers’ union. Erick Huth, president of local teachers’ union the Metro Nashville Education Association (MNEA), has been opposed to the bill since its proposal and chalks up the bill’s troubles to a lack of concrete evidence provided by supporters.
“The commissioner of education had a hard time defending his position and that of the governor. Delaying any action is probably a good move at this point,” Huth said. “Neither he nor the mayor have been able to supply hard data indicating that charter schools are any greater a success than public schools. Their justifications are exceedingly flimsy.”
Charter schools, Huth said, are able to “cherry-pick” students and parents to achieve their results. If zoned public schools had the same option, those schools would perform better, Huth said.
“The real problem with this bill ultimately is that it was going to drain millions and millions of local tax revenues away from Davidson County Schools, and that’s something that we cannot afford right now,” Huth said. “I’m hoping that this issue won’t be returning until January.”
The bill (HB 2146) is sponsored by Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Jamie Woodson (R-Knoxville) and Rep. Beth Harwell (R-Nashville).
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