Tennessee

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Tennessee

2002
Year Charter School Law Was Enacted
107
Estimated Number of Charter Schools in 2016-17
30,000
Estimated Number of Charter School Students in 2016-17
145
out of
240
Total Score

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While Tennessee’s law does not cap charter public school growth, it primarily allows only local school district authorizers, affords insufficient autonomy and accountability, and provides inequitable funding.

Tennessee’s law needs improvement in several areas, including ensuring equitable operational funding and equitable access to capital funding and facilities; creating additional authorizing options in all of the state’s districts; providing adequate authorizer funding; ensuring authorizer accountability; beefing up the requirements for performance-based contracts, charter school oversight, and renewals; and ensuring transparency regarding educational service providers.

*Since Tennessee does not allow full-time virtual charter schools, the highest score possible is 228 for the remaining 20 components. However, we converted this score to one that is comparable to the states that allow full-time virtual charter schools. Tennessee received 126 out of the 228 points available for the remaining 20 components, or 55 percent. We then multiplied the total points possible for all 21 components (240) by 55 percent to get a score comparable to the other states (133).

Component Scores

Are there caps on the growth of charter schools in this state?

Tennessee law does not place any caps on charter school growth.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
1A
No numeric or geographic limits are placed on the number of charter public schools or students.
N/A
1B
If caps exist, there is room for growth.

Are a variety of charter schools allowed?

Tennessee law allows new start-ups and public school conversions.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
2A
New startups.
Yes
2B
Public school conversions.

Are non-district authorizers available to which charter applicants may directly apply?

Tennessee law allows local school boards to authorize charter schools. The law also allows the achievement school district to authorize charter schools within a local educational agency (LEA) for the purpose of providing opportunities for students within the LEA who are zoned to attend or enrolled in a chronically low-performing school that is eligible to be placed in the achievement school district. It also allows the state board of education to authorize charter school applications sponsored by local school boards or upon appeal from a denial of approval of a charter school application by an LEA that contains at least one priority school on the current or last preceding priority school list.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Some
3A
The state allows an applicant anywhere in the state to apply directly to a non-district authorizer(s).

Is an authorizer and overall program accountability system required?

The law requires each authorizing authority to submit an annual authorizing report to the state department of education that covers the operating status of the charter schools approved by that authorizer, the oversight and any contracted services, and a performance report for each of its charter schools. While the law does not require the legislature and governor to regularly review the performance of the achievement school district and the state board of education as authorizers, they can do so at any time. In addition, the ability of the achievement school district and the state board of education to continue authorizing can be removed by the legislature and governor (the entities that gave them that authority).
Tennessee law requires the state commissioner of education to prepare and submit an annual report on charter schools to the joint oversight committee on education based upon the information provided in charter school annual reports.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
4A
Registration process for school boards to affirm their interest in authorizing.
N/A
4B
Application process for other eligible authorizing entities (except a state charter schools commission).
Yes
4C
Authorizer submission of annual report.
Some
4D
The ability for the state to conduct a review of an authorizer’s performance.
Some
4E
The ability for the state to sanction an authorizer for poor performance, including suspending an authorizer’s authority to approve new schools.
Yes
4F
Periodic formal evaluation of overall state charter school program and outcomes.

Is there adequate authorizer funding?

Tennessee law authorizers to receive an annual authorizer fee that is the lesser of 3% of the annual per student state and local allocations or $35,000 per school. The authorizer must only use the authorizer fee for fulfilling authorizing obligations and must submit an annual report to the state department of education regarding the fee amount and actual usage. Any fee collected in excess of obligation costs must be refunded to the school.
Tennessee law allows LEAs to charge applicants an application fee in an amount approved by the local board of education, not to exceed $500 per application.

The law prohibits authorizers from charging any other fees beyond the authorizer and application fees, unless there is an annual service contract for any agreed upon services from the authorizer.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
5A
A uniform statewide formula that guarantees annual authorizer funding that is not subject to annual legislative appropriations.
Yes
5B
Requirement to publicly report detailed authorizer expenditures.
Yes
5C
Separate contract for any services purchased from an authorizer by a school.
Yes
5D
Prohibition on authorizers requiring schools to purchase services from them.

Are there transparent charter application, review, and decisionmaking processes?

Tennessee law contains application elements for all schools and additional application elements specific to conversion schools. The law provides that a chartering authority may take into consideration the past and current performance, or lack thereof, of any charter school operated by the sponsor. State law requires the state department of education to provide a standard application format and sample scoring criteria addressing the elements of the charter school application specified in the Tennessee Public Charter Schools Act of 2002.
Tennessee law requires all charter approval or denial decisions to be made in a public meeting, with authorizers stating reasons for denials in writing.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
6A
Application elements for all schools.
Yes
6B
Additional application elements specific to conversion schools.
Yes
6C
Additional application elements specific to using educational service providers.
Yes
6D
Additional application elements specific to replications.
No
6E
Requirement for thorough evaluation of each application, including an in-person interview and a public meeting.
Yes
6F
Application approval criteria.
Yes
6G
All charter approval or denial decisions made in a public meeting with authorizers stating reasons for denials in writing.

Are performance-based charter contracts required?

Tennessee law requires the approval of a written agreement signed by the school and the authorizer. While the law requires the agreement to include school roles, powers, and responsibilities, it does not require it to include authorizer roles, powers, and responsibilities.
Tennessee law requires that the term of a charter agreement be 10 years.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
7A
Being created as a separate document from the application and executed by the governing board of the charter school and the authorizer.
Some
7B
Defining the roles, powers, and responsibilities for the school and its authorizer.
No
7C
Defining academic, financial, and operational performance expectations by which the school will be judged based on a performance framework.
No
7D
Providing an initial term of five operating years.

Are there comprehensive charter school monitoring and data collection processes?

Tennessee law includes a small number of the model law’s provisions for comprehensive charter school monitoring and data collection processes. The law requires a charter school to make at least an annual progress report to its authorizer and the state commissioner of education. The law requires the report to contain at least the following information: the progress of the school towards achieving the goals outlined in its charter; the same information required in the reports prepared by local boards of education pursuant to state laws, rules and regulations; and financial records of the school, including revenues and expenditures.
The law requires each charter school to provide in its annual report a detailed accounting, including the amounts and sources, of funds other than those received from its authorizer.

Tennessee law requires a charter school to conduct an annual audit of its accounts and records, including internal school activity and cafeteria funds.

Tennessee law requires a public charter school to maintain its accounts and records in accordance with generally-accepted accounting principles and in conformance with the uniform chart of accounts and accounting requirements prescribed by the comptroller of the treasury. A school must prepare and publish an annual financial report that encompasses all funds and includes the audited financial statements of the charter school.

Tennessee law allows the state comptroller of the treasury to audit any books and records, including internal school activity and cafeteria funds, of any charter school created under this chapter and when the audit is deemed necessary or appropriate by the comptroller of the treasury. The state comptroller of the treasury must have the full cooperation of officials of the charter school in the performance of the audit or audits.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
8A
Required annual school performance reports.
Yes
8B
Financial accountability for charter schools (e.g., generally accepted accounting principles, independent annual audit reported to authorizer).
No
8C
Authorizer authority to conduct oversight activities.
No
8D
Authorizer notification to its schools of perceived problems, with opportunities to remedy such problems.
No
8E
Authorizer authority to take appropriate corrective actions or exercise sanctions short of revocation.
No
8F
Authorizer may not request duplicative data submission from its charter schools and may not use performance framework to create cumbersome reporting requirements.

Are there clear processes for renewal, nonrenewal, and revocation decisions?

Tennessee law requires schools seeking renewal to apply for it. One year prior to the date on which a charter school is required to submit a renewal application, the law requires the authorizer to submit to the charter school a performance report that directly reflects the renewal application.
Tennessee law provides that a charter agreement shall be revoked or denied renewal if the school receives identification as a priority school as defined by the state’s accountability system, with such revocation effective immediately following the close of the school year in which a school is identified as a priority school. This provision does not apply to schools authorized by the achievement school district or a conversion charter school, unless they have been identified as a priority school for two consecutive cycles. Tennessee law also provides that a charter agreement may be revoked or denied renewal if the chartering authority determines that the charter school committed a material violation of any of the standards, conditions or procedures set forth in law, failed to meet generally-accepted standards of fiscal management.

At least 30 days prior to any decision by an LEA to revoke or non-renew a charter, the LEA must notify the school in writing of the possibility and the reasons for such possible revocation. Such decisions may be appealed to the state board of education, except those related to being a priority school.

Tennessee law requires that the term of a charter agreement is 10 years. It also provides that an interim review of a charter school must be conducted by its authorizer under guidelines developed by the state department of education in the fifth year of a charter school's initial period of operation and also in the fifth year following any renewal of a charter agreement. Such guidelines must require a charter school to submit to the authorizer a report on the progress of the school in achieving the goals, objectives, pupil performance standards, content standards and other terms of the approved charter agreement.

Tennessee law requires all renewal, nonrenewal, and revocation decisions be made in a public meeting, with authorizers stating reasons for their decisions in writing.

Tennessee law contains closure protocols to address student transitions, asset disposition, and debt responsibility.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
9A
Authorizer must issue school performance renewal reports to schools whose charter will expire the following year.
Yes
9B
Schools seeking renewal must apply for it.
No
9C
Authorizers must issue renewal application guidance that provides an opportunity for schools to augment their performance record and discuss improvements and future plans.
No
9D
Ability to have a differentiated process for renewal of high-performing charter schools.
Yes
9E
Authorizers must use clear criteria for renewal and nonrenewal/revocation.
No
9F
Authorizers must ground renewal decisions based on evidence regarding the school’s performance over the term of the charter contract in accordance with the performance framework set forth in the charter contract.
Yes
9G
Requirement that authorizers close chronically low-performing charter schools unless exceptional circumstances exist.
No
9H
Authorizers must have the authority to vary length of charter renewal contract terms based on performance or other issues.
Yes
9I
Authorizers must provide charter schools with timely notification of potential revocation or nonrenewal (including reasons) and reasonable time to respond.
Some
9J
Authorizers must provide charter schools with due process for nonrenewal and revocation decisions (e.g., public hearing, submission of evidence).
Yes
9K
All charter renewal, nonrenewal, and revocation decisions must be made in a public meeting, with authorizers stating reasons for nonrenewals and revocations in writing.
Yes
9L
Authorizers must have school closure protocols to ensure timely parent notification, orderly student and record transitions, and property and asset disposition.
No
9M
Any transfer of charter contracts from one authorizer to another are only allowed if they are approved by the state.

Is there transparency regarding educational service providers?

Tennessee law includes a small number of the model law’s provisions for educational service providers.
Tennessee law allows a charter school governing board to enter into contracts, but statute contains no provisions regarding the details of any ESP arrangements. In addition, statute specifically prohibits charter governing boards from contracting for the management or operation of the charter school with a for-profit entity.

The law provides that a chartering authority may take into consideration the past and current performance, or lack thereof, of any charter school operated by the sponsor.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Some
10A
All types of educational service providers (both for-profit and nonprofit) are allowed to operate all or parts of schools.
Some
10B
The charter application requires (1) performance data for all current and past schools operated by the ESP, and (2) explanation and evidence of the ESP’s capacity for successful growth while maintaining quality in existing schools.
No
10C
A performance contract is required between the independent charter school board and the ESP, with such contract approved by the school’s authorizer.
No
10D
School governing boards operate as entities completely independent of any ESP, individuals compensated by an ESP are prohibited from serving as voting members on such boards, and existing and potential conflicts of interest between the two entities are required to be disclosed and explained in the charter application.
No
10E
Provides that charter school governing boards must have access to ESP records necessary to oversee the ESP contract.
No
10F
An ESP must annually provide information to its charter school governing board on how that ESP spends public funding it receives when the ESP is performing a public function under applicable state law.
No
10G
Requires that similar criminal history record checks and fingerprinting requirements applicable to other public schools shall also be mandatory for on-site employees of ESPs who regularly come into contact with students.

Are the schools fiscally and legally autonomous with independent charter school boards?

Tennessee law provides requirements for fiscally and legally autonomous schools with independent charter school boards. Statute specifically states that a charter school can buy, sell or lease property, borrow funds as needed, pledge assets as security, and sue and be sued.
A governing body must be established for each charter school to oversee matters, including, but not limited to, budgeting, curriculum and other operating procedures.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
11A
Fiscally autonomous schools (e.g., schools have clear statutory authority to receive and disburse funds; incur debt; and pledge, assign, or encumber assets as collateral).
Yes
11B
Legally autonomous schools (e.g., schools have clear statutory authority to enter into contracts and leases, sue and be sued in their own names, and acquire real property).
Yes
11C
Independent school governing boards created specifically to govern their charter schools.

Are there clear student enrollment and lottery procedures?

A public charter school is subject to all federal and state laws and constitutional provisions prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability, race, creed, color, national origin, religion, ancestry or need for special education services.According to Tennessee law, if applications exceed the planned capacity of the public charter school, the charter school shall select students through a lottery. The law requires schools to give the following preferences in the following order: students that attended the charter school the year before, students enrolled in a pre-K program operated by the charter school, students attending a charter school that has an approved articulation agreement with the enrolling public charter school, siblings of enrolled students, students from a group of focus if the school is an approved focus school, students residing within the LEA in which the public charter school is located who were enrolled in another public school during the previous year, and students residing outside the LEA in which the public charter school is located. For conversion schools, preference must be given to students who reside within the former attendance area of that public school.
The law allows charters to give preference to the children of a teacher, sponsor or member of the governing body of the charter school, not to exceed 10% of total enrollment or 25 students, whichever is less.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
12A
Open enrollment to any student in the state.
Yes
12B
Anti-discrimination provisions regarding admissions.
Yes
12C
Required enrollment preferences for previously enrolled students within conversions and for prior-year students within charter schools.
Yes
12D
Lottery requirements.

Is there automatic exemption from many state and district laws and regulations?

Instead of providing charters with automatic exemptions from most state and district laws and regulations, Tennessee law provides that charters may apply to either the school district or the state commissioner of education for waivers of regulations and statutes.
Tennessee law requires charter teachers to be certified.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Some
13A
Exemptions from all laws, except those covering health, safety, civil rights, student accountability, employee criminal history checks, open meetings, freedom of information, and generally accepted accounting principles.
No
13B
Exemption from state teacher certification requirements.

Is there an automatic collective bargaining exemption?

The law does not require a charter school to participate in a collective bargaining agreement. However, a charter school's employees may form a bargaining unit, which may elect to represent themselves in negotiations with the charter school's governing body or they may elect to be represented by any qualified person or organization, including the local bargaining unit within the school district. A charter school's bargaining unit can bargain only with the governing board of the charter school, and not with the local school board.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
14A
Charter schools authorized by nonlocal board authorizers are exempt from participation in any outside collective bargaining agreements.
Yes
14B
Charter schools authorized by local boards are exempt from participation in any district collective bargaining agreements.

Are multischool charter contracts and/or multicharter contract boards allowed?

Tennessee law is silent regarding multi-school charter contracts and multi-charter contract boards. In practice, some independent public charter school boards are overseeing multiple charter contracts.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
15A
Oversee multiple schools linked under a single contract with independent fiscal and academic accountability for each school.
No
15B
Hold multiple charter contracts with independent fiscal and academic accountability for each school.

Is there eligibility and access to extracurricular and interscholastic activities?

Tennessee law is silent about charter eligibility and access.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
16A
Laws or regulations explicitly state that charter school students and employees are eligible to participate in all extracurricular and interscholastic activities available to noncharter public school students and employees.
No
16B
Laws or regulations explicitly allow charter school students in schools not providing extracurricular and interscholastic activities to have access to those activities at noncharter public schools.

Is there clear identification of special education responsibilities?

Tennessee law includes a small number of the model law’s provisions regarding special education responsibilities. Tennessee law requires charter schools to provide special education services for students.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Some
17A
Clarity regarding which entity is the local education agency (LEA) responsible for providing special education services.
No
17B
Clarity regarding the flow of federal, state, and local special education funds to the designated LEA.
No
17C
Clarity regarding funding for low-incident, high-cost services for charter schools (in the same amount and/or in a manner similar to other LEAs).
No
17D
Clarity that charter schools have access to all regional and state services and supports available to traditional districts.

Is there equitable operational funding and equal access to all state and federal categorical funding?

For charter schools authorized by local school boards and the achievement school district, Tennessee law requires a local board of education to allocate to a charter school an amount equal to the per student state and local funds received by the district and all appropriate allocations under federal law or regulation, including, but not limited to, Title I and ESEA funds. The law requires the state department of education to promulgate rules and regulations that provide for the determination of the allocation of state and local funds.
A charter school, like an LEA, is generally not required to provide transportation to students. If the charter school decides to provide transportation and does so in compliance with Tennessee statutes on transportation, the transportation funds would flow to the charter school.

In a recent national study of charter school funding (University of Arkansas, Charter School Funding: Inequity Expands, 2014), Tennessee charter schools were receiving on average $9,087 per pupil in public funds, while traditional public schools would have received $10,583 for those students. As a result, the state's charter schools were receiving $1,496 per pupil - or 16.5% - less than what the traditional public schools would have received for those students. This figure includes all sources of funding, and analysis reveals significant inequities for both operational and capital funding (see component #19 for information on capital issues).

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Some
18A
Equitable operational funding statutorily driven.
Some
18B
Equal access to all applicable categorical federal and state funding and clear guidance on the pass-through of such funds.
Yes
18C
Funding for transportation similar to school districts.
No
18D
Annual report offering district and charter school funding comparisons and including annual recommendations to the legislature for any needed equity enhancements.

Is there equitable access to capital funding and facilities?

Tennessee law requires the state department of education to calculate the amount of state funding required under the basic education program (BEP) for capital outlay as a non-classroom component to be received in a fiscal year by a district in which one or more charter schools operate, to reserve from the sum for such district the funds that constitute the amount due to charter schools operating in the district and not distribute such reserved amount to the district, and to distribute from the reserved amount directly to each charter school its total per pupil share as determined by its average daily membership (ADM). The law provides that the per pupil share of each charter school must be based on prior year ADM, except that the per-pupil share of any charter school in its first year of operation must be based on the anticipated enrollment in the charter agreement.
The law further provides that a district must include in the local share of funds paid to a charter school the required district match for the state funds generated under the BEP for capital outlay as a non-classroom component that are paid directly to a charter school as per pupil facilities aid. The amount of the allotment varies by the district in which a charter school is located.
The law requires the state department to determine the amount of the state BEP non-classroom component for capital outlay to be distributed to a charter school authorized by the state board. The LEA shall pay to the department one hundred percent of the required local match under the BEP for capital outlay as a non-classroom component for distribution to the charter school.
Currently, the allotment is between approximately $215 and $315 per pupil.
In 2017, a public charter school facilities program was created to award grants and loans for qualifying capital projects. $18 million was initially appropriated for this fund over three years.
The law requires an LEA having underutilized and vacant properties to make the properties available for use by charter schools operating in the LEA. The law provides that a charter school may not be required to pay a base rent for the use of any underutilized and vacant property owned or operated by the LEA and may only be required to remit payment for the maintenance and operational costs associated with the occupancy of the property or space.

Furthermore, by October 1 of each year, the law requires any LEA in which one or more charter schools operates to annually catalog all vacant properties owned or operated by the LEA and all vacant space within any educational facility owned or operated by the LEA. The law requires the LEA to submit a comprehensive listing of all such properties and space to the state department of education, which must make an LEA's list available to any charter school operating in the LEA or to any sponsor seeking to establish a public charter school in the LEA.

The law provides that charter schools that have the support of their local taxing authority are eligible to access tax-exempt financing through the Tennessee Local Development Authority.

Public charter schools may seek their own bond funding for facilities (with the chartering authority’s approval) or may have their request included with an LEA’s bond request.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Facilities Funding
Some
19A
A per-pupil facilities allowance that annually reflects actual average district capital costs.
Yes
19B
A state grant program for charter school facilities.
No
19C
Equal access to existing state facilities programs available to noncharter public schools.
Access to Public Space
No
19D
A requirement for districts to provide school district space or funding to charter schools if the majority of that schools’ students reside in that district.
Yes
19E
Right of first refusal to purchase or lease at or below fair market value a closed, unused, or underused public school facility or property.
Access to Financing Tools
Yes
19F
A state loan program for charter school facilities.
Yes
19G
Equal access to tax-exempt bonding authorities or allowing charter schools to have their own bonding authority
No
19H
Pledging the moral obligation of the state to help charter schools obtain more favorable bond financing terms.
No
19I
The creation and funding of a state charter school debt reserve fund.
Some
19J
The inclusion of charter schools in school district bonding and mill levy requests.
No
19K
A mechanism to provide credit enhancement for charter school facilities.
Other
No
19L
Charter schools allowed to contract at or below fair market value with a school district, a college or university, or any other public or for-profit or nonprofit private entity for the use of facility for a school building.
No
19M
Certain entities allowed to provide space to charter schools within their facilities under their preexisting zoning and land use designations.
No
19N
Charter school facilities exempt from ad valorem taxes and other assessment fees not applicable to other public schools.

Is there access to relevant employee retirement systems?

Tennessee law requires charter schools to participate in the relevant employee retirement systems.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
20A
Charter schools have access to relevant state retirement systems available to other public schools.
No
20B
Charter schools have the option to participate (i.e., not required).

Are there provisions for full-time virtual charter schools?

Tennessee law does not allow full-time virtual charter schools.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
N/A
21A
An authorizing structure whereby full-time virtual charter schools that serve students from more than one district may be approved only by an authorizer with statewide chartering jurisdiction and authority, full-time virtual charter schools that serve students from one school district may be authorized by that school district, and a cap is placed on the total amount of funding that an authorizer may withhold from a full-time virtual charter school.
N/A
21B
Legally permissible criteria and processes for enrollment based on the existence of supports needed for student success.
N/A
21C
Enrollment level provisions that establish maximum enrollment levels for each year of a charter contract, with any increases in enrollment from one year to the next based on whether the school meets its performance requirements.
N/A
21D
Accountability provisions that include virtual-specific goals regarding student enrollment, attendance, engagement, achievement, truancy, and attrition.
N/A
21E
Funding levels per student based on costs proposed and justified by the operators.
N/A
21F
Performance-based funding whereby full-time virtual charter schools are funded via a performance-based funding system based on meeting the accountability performance provisions.