Metro Schools Issued $3.4M Penalty For Denying Charter School
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Department of Education announced it will withhold $3.4 million in funding from Metro Nashville Public Schools because of the district's decision to deny charter status to Great Hearts Academy.
The announcement was confirmed in a release issued Tuesday.
Officials said the decision was a consequence of Metro School's "refusal to follow state law" in its meetings on August 14 and September 11.
Arizona-based charter school Great Hearts Academy withdrew their application from Metro schools on September 12 – one day after the school board denied the charter operation's application for the third time.
"It is evident at this point that, with this hostile board as the charter authorizer, a successful school opening would be impossible for Great Hearts even if we were able to obtain a charter," company officials said.
Metro assembled a charter school committee to review all of the applications. They ultimately recommended that Great Hearts be approved. District leaders strayed from the recommendation, instead saying the application raised some concerns and asked the school board to deny the application.
On appeal, the State Board of Education recommended Great Hearts' approval with conditions. Still, the Metro school board deferred and then denied the application, even after officials with the Department of Education said failure to approve the charter would be in violation of state law.
Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said they had hoped to avoid withholding funds, but Metro School's decision forced them to act.
"It is our job to enforce state law, and we have no choice but to take this action," said Huffman.
Officials said the funding would be reallocated to other school districts in the state.
Metro Schools issues a statement saying they were disappointed with the cut in funding.
do not yet have a plan on how we will respond to this disruptive
mid-year cut. Our priority will always be to give the best education to
our students with the resources
we have," the statement said.
Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey said he supported the decision to withhold funds and expressed disappointment that Davidson County parents would have one less option for their children.
"The Metro Nashville school board's brazen defiance of state law limited options for thousands of Nashville parents and their children," said Ramsey.
Speaker of the House Beth Harwell said those who break state law should be held accountable.
"The Metro Nashville school board had two chances to follow the law, and twice it chose to not do so," said Harwell. "This is the consequence."
Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham also issued a statement in support of the Department of Education.
"It is clear that the Metro School Board voted twice to break the law and stand against giving parents the choices afforded to them under Tennessee statutes to help their children have more opportunities to succeed," said Gresham. "We must hold these elected officials accountable for their decision to break the law."
Nashville Mayor Karl Dean said the state's action was predictable, but was concerned about how the both the fine and the school board's actions would impact Metro students.
"Sadly, once again, it is the children who will suffer, not just from being denied another high quality educational choice but also from the state's plan to withhold funds," Dean said in a statement. "This boils down to an issue of responsibility and accountability on the part of our schools. It should always be about doing what's right for our children."
State educators said the funds would be withheld from administrative and other non-classroom accounts to mitigate the impact on students.
Metro School officials said the Department of Education sent money based on a funding formula and not a spending plan, so there were "no funds earmarked for 'administrative costs.'"
They said the withheld money was budgeted for "utilities,
student transportation, maintenance and other things that directly affect our 81,000 students and 5,000 classrooms."