March 12, 2023

Phil Williams: Confidential charter school plan draws fears of impact on rural, suburban communities

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Reporting for NewsChannel 5, Phil Williams unrolls information about a SCORE plan for privatization in the state.

It’s a confidential plan that, critics say, could eventually upend local schools in every county in the state.

That plan, prepared by one of the most powerful lobbying forces on Tennessee’s Capitol Hill, lays out a vision for a dramatic expansion of taxpayer-funded, privately operated charter schools into every part of the state — including suburban and rural areas that have not been targeted by school privatization forces.

The plan obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates was developed by the Tennessee State Collaborative for Reforming Education — better known as SCORE — a group that has a history of getting its way around the state legislature.

“They are the most influential organization in this state,” said J.C. Bowman, executive director of another teachers group, Professional Educators of Tennessee.

SCORE is made up of the state’s wealthiest people, billionaires and millionaires who think they know what’s best for Tennessee’s school children, along with funding assistance from billionaire Bill Gates.

The plan is ambitious.

In the next five years, it calls for 25-30% penetration in Nashville and Memphis.

Right now, less than 20% of Nashville students go to charter schools.

SCORE envisions 10% penetration in Chattanooga, and 40% of Knoxville’s under-served students to be in charter schools.

And perhaps most noteworthy: “rural/suburban growth is ‘unlocked.'”

In other words, SCORE anticipates charter schools beginning to move into those less populated areas in the next five years.

Among those planning to cash in, a familiar name.

Last year, Gov. Bill Lee opened the door, inviting the ultraconservative Hillsdale College to set up charter schools across the state — a plan that was derailed after NewsChannel 5 showed Lee’s friend, Hillsdale President Larry Arnn, trashing public school teachers.

But Hillsdale is back with applications to open charter schools in five Tennessee counties.

The executive director of SCORE, David Mansouri, declined to go on camera and answer our questions, although he insisted in an email that SCORE’s focus on charter schools is really a strategy to “support and accelerate student learning.”

But NewsChannel 5 found other data.

But NewsChannel 5 Investigates checked the data, and we discovered that 80 percent of all charter schools in Tennessee have a “success rate” in math and English that’s actually lower than the districts where they’re located.

Charter school advocates counter that the most accurate measure is student growth, and that is where the privately operated charter schools excel.

On the other hand, school data shows that Tennessee’s all-charter Achievement School District has one of the worst records in the state.

What is this all about. Bowman has an idea.

“Make no mistake, this is business for them, and the business is not educating kids,” J.C. Bowman said. “This is about business and shifting dollars to the hands of other people.”

Read the full article here. 

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