Tennessee charter school bill sets funds aside for facilities

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Gov. Bill Haslam's 2017-18 budget includes $100 million for teacher pay raises and $22.2 million for English-language learning students. Jason Gonzales / The Tennessean / Wochit

Student with pen and paper.(Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

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Tennessee plans to better define the rules of authorizing charter schools with a bill introduced on behalf of the state‘s education department.

House Bill 310, introduced by Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, sets forth the rules and also includes money for charter school facilities in the state.

“This particular piece of legislation is a comprehensive bill to ensure we have high-quality charters in Tennessee,” said Education Commissioner Candice McQueen. “It increases accountability and ensures strong oversight.”

The proposed legislation would require districts across the state adhere to national best practices in authorizing charter schools, said Elizabeth Fiveash, assistant commissioner of policy and legislative affairs.

The bill would also allow districts to require a fee from charters based on how many charter schools operate within a district. School boards can levy a 1-3 percent fee of the annual per student state and local allocations depending on how many schools are within the district.

“What we are really trying to do is ensure the landscape is equal in case of any spread across the state,” Fiveash said.

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The bill was introduced to shore up some of the questions and concerns charter schools and districts across the state have had in authorizing, McQueen said.

One of the concerns includes a pot of money for charter school facilities, she said.

As part of Gov. Bill Haslam‘s budget, he listed a plan to put aside $6 million to create a charter school facilities fund where schools can apply for grants to assist with school facility needs. It will provide $6 million per year for three years.

McQueen said facilities upkeep has long been a conversation among charter school operators.

“We felt like it was time to be thoughtful around our approach going forward and ensure charters have quality facilities,” she said.

There are 104 charter schools total across the state, with Shelby County Schools having authorized the majority of those schools, according to a state spokeswoman.

Shelby has 45, Nashville has 28, the Achievement School District has 26, Hamilton County Schools has four and Knox County Schools has one, according the education department‘s numbers.

Reach at and jagonzales or on Twitter @.

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