More Public Options for Tennessee Students


March 2, 2022 2:07PM

For years, public charter schools in Tennessee were only available in the state’s largest urban centers: Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Knoxville. Yet 2022 brought forth a slight expansion to these geographic regions with a charter school being approved in Rutherford County. Though charter schools have many hurdles to go through in order to begin operating, one major and chronic hurdle is the fact that these non-traditional public schools receive little to no funding for the very facilities they use to teach Tennessee students.

Taking a step in the right direction, Governor Bill Lee recently proposed a $32 million dollar investment for charter facilities in his 2022 State of the State address. This proposal would allow for these public education options to use more of their funding for what it was intended for: educating students. 

Data shows Tennessee charter schools have higher graduation rates and a higher percentage of “Most Effective” schools compared to district-run schools on the state assessment. The effectiveness of public charter schools was enough for the Tennessee General Assembly to look at ways to make it easier for these non-traditional public schools to serve Tennessee students. 

Legislation that would allow charter schools to lease vacant or underutilized public buildings free of charge would inject more options into the public education system. It would allow dollars meant for student education to be used to educate them instead of being siphoned off to pay for building purposes. 

Additionally, Tennessee policymakers could follow the lead of 20 other states who allow for multiple authorizers of charter schools. Tennessee has long allowed only a single authorizer, the local district, to approve or deny a charter application. Only until last year did that change, with an appeals process through the state for denied applications. In fact, in one appeal, a state commissioner commented that the local district “manipulated the system to try and cause this [charter] application to fail.” By providing a way to apply directly to additional authorizers, the state can streamline and provide more options for charter schools to bring additional educational options around the state. 

With public charter schools providing high-quality options for students, at a reduced cost to taxpayers, Tennessee policymakers and the public should welcome legislative changes that make it easier and fairer for these public options to exist. Tennessee should be proud of the accomplishments made by these innovative and non-traditional public schools. By reducing barriers on charters to operating and allowing for more dollars to go to the classroom, Tennessee can grow in providing high-quality educational options to its students.