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5 rejected charter applicants appeal to the state, setting the stage for challenge of new Memphis policy

Five charter school applicants the Memphis school board denied two weeks ago for failing to meet new, tighter district standards on charter expansion have appealed the decisions to the state.

Every school cited Shelby County Schools’ own analysis of Memphis school options in their arguments for why the schools should be approved.

The school board enacted the policy in July to have more control over the types, location, and quality of charter schools. There are currently more seats than students in many parts of Memphis, so district leaders don’t want to add more schools where they believe there are enough seats to meet the needs of the area. There is no state law limiting the number of school seats in any neighborhood or district.

Applicants argue the schools that are available often score poorly on state tests and the neighborhoods are in need of better schools.

Three of the petitioners already have charter schools in Memphis. One of those is operated by the state. The other two want to open their first charter schools. (The links take you to the appeal letters.)

Together, the charter schools represent about 3,900 students who were expected to eventually enroll in four neighborhoods.

The State Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the appeals at its Nov. 15 meeting, a spokeswoman said. Public hearings are expected to be scheduled soon. These appeals will not be affected by the newly appointed charter commission that will replace the state board in reviewing appeals starting in January 2021.

Related: Meet the charter commission members Gov. Bill Lee appointed this week

If any of the appeals are successful, Shelby County Schools would have 30 days to decide whether or not they will accept the decision and retain local control. In addition, the charter school has the option to report to the state instead of the district. Green Dot did that, and the state board now operates its first school in Memphis.

Some of the charter schools wanted to open in neighborhoods that Shelby County Schools deemed “oversaturated” with schools. That determination comes from a new district analysis that looks at the number of school-age children in neighborhoods compared to available seats in existing schools.

Related: Fewer charter schools want to open in Memphis, and even fewer going where district says they’re needed

The analysis also measures school quality by looking at test scores, discipline rates, and how well schools prepare students for life after high school. In several cases, charter school applicants wanted to open schools in neighborhoods that have few high-quality options, but the district believes already have too many seats. The high number of seats compared to students disqualified some applications, but applicants argued the lack of high-quality options is more important.

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
The State Board of Education oversees one charter school in Memphis run by Green Dot Public Schools after the charter network appealed Shelby County Schools denial in 2016.

“Families in Whitehaven are being consistently under-served by the current options available to them,” said the appeal letter from Megan Quaile, the executive director of Green Dot.

Others said approving the new district policy in the midst of the application process was unfair.

Even though one application for an elementary school from the Memphis School of Excellence was approved, its application for a middle/high school was turned down. It was the only school that was approved by the board.

“The sole justification for the rating is the newly adopted policy,” read the appeal letter for a middle/high school.

“Shelby County Schools did not note any deficiencies in Memphis School of Excellence’s amended application, indicating that Shelby County Schools agrees that Memphis School of Excellence will offer a high-quality public middle and high school option to students and families residing in Cordova,” the letter continued.

Two other schools the board denied did not appeal to the state by the deadline. Anthony Anderson, the CEO of Memphis Business Academy, said he would not appeal the district’s decision to the state.

“I firmly believe that the local [district] knows what’s best for its district,” Anderson told Chalkbeat.

Last year, four out of five rejected applicant petitioned the state to overturn the local school board’s decision. The two previous years, two applicants appealed. Since the state board started handling charter school appeals, it has affirmed the local decision in 70% of cases.

The post 5 rejected charter applicants appeal to the state, setting the stage for challenge of new Memphis policy appeared first on Chalkbeat.

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