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Great Hearts Appealing Charter Rejection to State

July 5, 2012

Per the Tennessean this morning, Great Hearts has decided to appeal its rejection to the state Board of Education:

Great Hearts Academy, the controversial charter school operator seeking to bring a school to wealthy West Nashville, will ask the state for approval to open five K-12 schools in Davidson County after two rejections from the school board.

In an email to supporters, Great Hearts Academy CEO Daniel Scoggin and President Peter Bezanson said they would like to open their first of five schools in 2014. Great Hearts will submit its appeal to the state this week, Scoggin and Bezanson said.

“We remain committed to addressing the widespread demand we have received from families across Davidson County seeking more choices for a rigorous, public, and college preparatory education,” Scoggin and Bezanson said in their email sent late Tuesday night.

The school board voted 7-2 in June to reject Great Hearts’ revised application. School board member Ed Kindall was especially critical of the revised plan, saying it amounted to “locational diversity,” in which the overall student population at Great Hearts’ five schools would be diverse, but there would be a minuscule number of minority students at the West Nashville school.

Kindall said the proposal harkened back to segregated schools. Nashville Mayor Karl Dean implored the school board to approve Great Hearts’ revised application in June.

Scoggin initially said Great Hearts would not appeal to the state if it was rejected by the school board a second time. He said the state’s review process would take too long for Great Hearts to open its first school in 2013.

But in the email to supporters this week, Scoggin and Bezanson said the new plan would be to open the initial school in 2014. “We are very grateful for the outpouring of support we have received from the Nashville community,” the Great Hearts email stated. “It is this connection with the families that has fixed our resolve to continue with our quest to obtain charters to serve scholars across the city.”

The operative statute is T.C.A. 49-13-108 (available here — good resource to bookmark).  The pertinent passage is subsection (a)(3):

(3) A denial by the local board of education of an application to establish a public charter school may be appealed by the sponsor, within ten (10) days of the final decision to deny, to the state board of education. The appeal and review process shall be in accordance with this subdivision (a)(3). Within sixty (60) days after receipt of the notice of appeal or the making of a motion to review by the state board and after reasonable public notice, the state board, at a public hearing attended by the board or its designated representative and held in the school district in which the proposed charter school has applied for a charter, shall review the decision of the local board of education and make its findings. If the state board finds that the local board’s decision was contrary to the best interests of the pupils, school district or community, the state board shall remand the decision to the local board of education with written instructions for approval of the charter. The grounds upon which the state board of education based a decision to remand the application shall be stated in writing, specifying objective reasons for the decision. The decision of the state board shall be final and not subject to appeal. The LEA, however, shall be the chartering authority.

Three key points:

  1. We’re going to have another public hearing.  Get ready.  Expect to see a lot of shirts and signs, plus some more press releases, letters, and statements.
  2. The state board has a lot of latitude either way — “contrary to the best interests of the pupils, school district, or community” is a pretty vague standard.
  3. There is very little, if any, deference to the local decision.  Typically (though not in all cases), for appellate review of lower decisions (in a legal setting, anyway), you have something like an “abuse of discretion” standard, especially when it comes to factual and intensely localized questions like this.

So, who’s going to be making this decision (i.e., where do you direct your emails/letters/calls)?

Why, it would be these fine folks!

It’s a nine member Board (just like our own local Board) appointed by the Governor, and confirmed by the General Assembly, so we might see a 5-4 split.  Note: There are actually 10 members, one for each Congressional district plus a student member, but according to T.C.A. 49-1-301(a)(6), the student member is nonvoting (ex officio).

Interestingly, it appears that 6 members were appointed by Governor Bredesen (B. Fielding Rolston, Vernita B. Justice, Carolyn Pearre, Jean Anne Rogers, Melvyn Wright, Sr., and Teresa Sloyan), while only 3 members were appointed by Governor Haslam (Mike Edwards, Lonnie Roberts, and Janet Ayers).  Oddly, it appears as though Ms. Pearre’s term expired in 2011 — I don’t know if she has been reappointed or replaced, or maybe just overlooked.  If she’s been replaced, or the seat is vacant, we would have a 5-4 Bredesen/Haslam appointee split.  Who knows if this all means anything, but it could!

Expect to see a lot of coverage in the coming weeks, especially after the school board race is over.

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