Metro Nashville Public Schools Losing $3.4 Million After School Board Fails To Comply With Tennessee Charter School Law

Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman speaks to reporters in Nashville, Tenn., on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012, about a decision to
Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman speaks to reporters in Nashville, Tenn., on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012, about a decision to withhold $3.4 million in state funding from Nashville schools over a refusal to approve a charter school application. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)

The Tennessee Department of Education is withholding $3.4 million of non-classroom, administrative funding from Metro Nashville Public Schools due to the school board’s failure to comply with the state’s charter school law, the Jackson Sun reports.

Last week, the Metro Nashville school board disobeyed an order by the state Board of Education to approve an application from the Phoenix-based Great Hearts Academies, which it had already twice rejected.

The Associated Press reports that members of the school board raised concerns that the proposed charter school planned to draw from affluent white families, as opposed to cultivating a more diverse student body. They voted 5-4 to deny Great Hearts’ application, ignoring a unanimous order from the state school board to approve it.

The charter school has since dropped its effort to open a school in Tennessee, the Tennessean reports.

According to the Jackson Sun, Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said the funding was withheld as a result of the board “brazenly violating the law” that enables the state panel to have supreme authority when it comes to charter school applications.

“When a state board decides, ‘We’re just going to violate the law because we feel like it,’ that’s when we have to take action,” he said. “That’s what this is about.”

The stripped $3.4 million represents about 1.5 percent of the annual total the city receives under Tennessee’s Basic Education Program funding formula. According to the Jackson Sun, the state opted for the non-classroom funds in order to alleviate the effect on students, but as the AP reports, the school system has indicated the money does in fact go toward operations that impact students, such as transportation and maintenance.

"Obviously everything in a school system is ultimately for the benefit of a child, every administrative assistant in the central building, etc.," Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said. "So ultimately that's right. And that's why Metro's decision to do that was harmful."

The Tennessean reports Metro Nashville school officials are hopeful the penalty can be avoided through a conversation with Huffman about the district’s diversity needs and its history of court-mandated desegregation.

“I’m very hopeful this can be resolved and that the children of Nashville will not have to suffer the consequences,” Metro school board Chairwoman Cheryl Mayes said.

The money is scheduled to be withheld in October, but any potential budget cuts do not have to be made on the same timeline, according to the Tennessean.

Funding that would have gone to Metro Nashville will instead be redistributed to other school districts around the state, the Jackson Sun reports.