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By Steve Ahillen April 20, 2012

Cap on charter schools lifted

Candidate Bill Haslam made the promise to eliminate the cap on charter schools  in his campaign literature and spoke to it several times while on the trail.

His goal was to eliminate the limit on the number of the state"s charter schools, which had been set at 90. He followed through on June 15, 2011, by signing bill HB 1989/SB 1523 into law at the Freedom Preparatory Academy in Memphis. Let"s point out that at present Tennessee has  only  47 charter schools operating or in the works. Memphis is the far-away leader in number with 18. Knoxville, by contrast, failed in its bid for a first one because proponents could not find a suitable site.

The law also removed the enrollment restrictions and allowed the state Achievement School District to authorize charter schools within the district"s scope.

Pretty much a slam-dunk mission accomplished. But, let"s take a second to review what we are talking about here.

Charter schools can mean slightly different things around the country. In Tennessee, according to the state Department of Education, they are "public schools operated by independent, non-profit governing bodies that must include parents. In Tennessee, public charter school students are measured against the same academic standards as students in other public schools are.”

Haslam has championed charter schools, seeing them as a way to improve on the state"s dismal  education record.  On March 12, 2011, prior to signing the cap elimination legislation, he announced $40 million in funding to grow and support charter schools.

Since these charter school victories of last year, there have been a couple of givebacks of late. The Senate and House passed bills April 16, 2012, that would require charter schools to disclose all of  their funding sources in addition to capping the number of foreign citizens on the staff at 3.5 percent of the total number of the school"s employees.  The governor was not wild about the measures. He let them go into law but without his signature, and said he would tell the attorney general to produce a legal opinion on the measures.

All of that is just a side debate. Bottom line is the governor did what he said he would on lifting the cap. So we give it a Promise Kept.

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