Monday, February 18, 2013

State Charter Authorizer Steamroller Trundling Along

If there was any question about how a supermajority would work, we're learning quickly.  Step 1:  Stack the committee.  Step 2:  File legislation (HB702) and consider it the next day.  This allows Step 3:  Solicit as little public input as possible.  Step 4:  Carefully select speakers that only support the narrow view that supports your side of things.  Last Tuesday, we watched this unfold in a House education subcommittee.

We also got to see a little blameshifting about who was responsible for deciding who would speak to the subcommittee.  Rep. Brooks (R-Knoxville) and Rep. White (R-Memphis)'s staffs couldn't quite decide who put together the lobbyist lineup.  Breakdown in communication or conspiracy?  Hard to say.

We also saw some subcommittee discontent.  Rep. Joe Pitts (D-Clarksville) extended an offer to Tennessee citizens who wished to speak in opposition to the bill.  Here's the video of Metro-Nashville Public Schools School Board member Amy Frogge speaking to the committee.  Rep. Pitts also spoke against the bill.  Rep. Joe Forgety (R-Athens) also spoke against the bill.  The idea of having a state charter authorizer is not a partisan idea - it is supported and opposed by both Republicans and Democrats.  The Republican opposition is usually rooted in added layers of bureacracy and removing local control from elected officials.  Here's another summary of the legislative activity, with the highly notable gem that the body designated to be the state charter authorizer, the appointed state Board of Education, actually opposes the idea of having a state charter authorizer.  Instead, the state Board prefers that its decisions on charter appeals have "binding power to reverse charter school rejections instead of ordering local school boards to change their minds."  Interesting.  Like I said last week, Tennessee basically already has a state charter authorizer.

It's also worth mentioning that Rep. Forgety filed a bill that prevents a state charter authorizer from being the final word on charter applications.  Also worth mentioning that the bill was filed BEFORE the bill currently under consideration, and has not yet been set for consideration by the subcommittee or committee.  Talk about a steamroller. 

The folks behind Standing Together 4 Strong Community Schools put two and two together and determined that Tennessee Speaker of the House Beth Harwell is in the driver's seat.  Here's a hilarious Q&A with Rep. Harwell that doesn't reflect all that well on the thought process that is driving this piece of legislation.

This is all building up to tomorrow's consideration of Rep. Harwell's bill by the full education committee.  Aligned in favor of the bill are several national groups including Michelle Rhee's Students First group, and the Tennessee branch of Stand for Children, Democrats for Education Reform, along with Tennessee Charter Schools Association.  If you're against a state charter authorizer, some actual Tennessee residents have put together a petition.  As always, be careful about what you click on the website or they might accidentally sign you up for Michelle Rhee's group without your explicit consent.  Please consider signing the petition - it will have the effect of sending an email to everyone on the Education Committee.

There is no reason to remove local control of which charters are located where from local jurisdictions.  The focus is currently on Memphis and Nashville, but make no mistake, charter schools are coming for every kind of community.  If the idea is that good government is the government closest to the public, then this bill just does not make sense.  This bill is about disagreements between lobbyists, "reformers", and the cities of Memphis and Nashville.  There is no need for the rest of the state to get involved in this - there are already plenty of remedies for when the state disagrees with local action.

Remember, our own Shelby County School Board has already registered its opposition to a state charter authorizer.  Tomorrow is their annual trip to Nashville - hopefully, they'll take the opportunity to chat with legislators about why this bill should not move forward.

Please sign the petition.

Please also email the members of the Education Committee with your views.  I can assure you that the lobbyists already have.,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

You can also find their phone numbers at the following link:

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