October 5, 2022

Phil Williams: Tennessee charter school commission accused of ‘enormous conflict of interest’

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News Channel 5 in Nashville has covered many Tennessee education shenanigans, and in a recent piece by  Phil Williams, they lay out exactly the problem with a state-level Charter School Commission.

First, why have a state authorizer when local school districts, elected to represent the local taxpayers, already has the power to authorize charter schools.

Composed of charter school advocates, the Public Charter School Commission — handpicked by the governor and confirmed by the legislature — has the authority to authorize taxpayer funding to go to schools operated by private entities whose applications were rejected at the local level.

“Unfortunately you had some school districts before this that would say no to every charter school because, philosophically, they just don’t want a charter school,” said Rep. William Lamberth, R-Portland.

Republicans created the commission after charter schools ran into opposition in Nashville and Memphis, in counties run by Democrats.

“They have set up the system to circumvent local governments and local control with a handpicked state charter commission,” said state Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville.

Besides overruling local control, a state charter commission provides an opportunity for unaccountable officials to indulge in conflicts of interest. The members of Tennessee’s commission assert they have no such conflicts.

But the commission includes Alan Levine and Chris Richards, two members of the board of the State Collaborative for Reforming Education (SCORE), a pro-charter lobbying group.

It also includes SCORE’S former executive director, Jamie Woodson, who has served as a $200,0000-a-year consultant to the group.

Two other members, Terence Patterson and Derwin Sisnett, work with pro-charter groups that get funding from SCORE.

“SCORE has worked for years and spent a lot of money, millions of dollars, trying to push charter schools,” Clemmons said.

Sisnett will be appearing before the commission this month to lobby for approval of a charter school that he wants to start Memphis-Shelby County schools rejected that.

The SCORE players on the commission insist they will step aside when appropriate, as if that will magically erase their clout on the board.

Woodson downplayed the concerns.

“Commission staff and I are regularly reviewing, and I have made it clear I will recuse myself from voting on any charter appeal where SCORE is or has been involved as a funder,” she said in an email.

“In addition, SCORE has a firm policy in place not to advocate for or against charter school applications that are before the Commission. That offers an additional safeguard.”

Sure. Read the full piece here. 


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