A new report from the Tennessee Charter School Center shows Tennessee’s public charter school sector is strong and growing– in number, quality, the diversity of academic offerings, and in student enrollment and impact.
The 2014- 2015 State of the Sector report finds that as public charter schools in the state are succeeding in raising expectations and closing achievement gaps, parent and community demand for more public charter schools is rapidly increasing. Last year, while Tennessee’s public charter schools accounted for just 5.4 percent of all public schools in the state, they represented 7.6 percent of all of the top-performing Reward Schools in the state.
“Tennessee is the fastest-improving state in the nation in student achievement – making historic gains in the national rankings and in the opportunities we are creating for students. We are very proud that Tennessee’s public charter schools are playing such an important and growing part in that success,” said Maya Bugg, CEO of the Tennessee Charter School Center.
Serving more than 29,000 students, or about 2.9% of this year’s current estimated enrollment of all public students in the state, Tennessee’s public charter schools represent some of the highest performing schools in the state in both student achievement and growth. Students attending Tennessee’s public charter schools are also graduating high school and attending college at higher rates than their district peers in traditional public schools.
In 2013, a study from the national Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University found Tennessee to be one of the top states in the nation for charter school reading and math gains. Compared to their traditional public school peers, Tennessee charter school students gained the equivalent of 86 additional learning days in reading and 72 days in mathematics over the course of a single year.
However, despite such positive impact on students, families and communities, Tennessee’s public charter schools are being forced to work with less public funding per pupil than traditional public schools.
A January report from the Tennessee Comptroller’s Offices of Research and Education Accountability (OREA) spotlights the unique challenges Tennessee’s public charter schools face as a result of inequitable policies for locally allocated capital funds, the main source of facility funding for traditional Tennessee public schools.
Unlike traditional schools, which are owned and operated by the local board of education, public charter schools are not provided school facilities. Almost all—82%— lease their buildings, either from private property owners, their authorizing school district, or from public entities such as a city or county government. Eighteen percent own or have financed to own their facilities.
According to the State of the Sector report, the funding deficit for public charter schools can be large, and the resources spent on facilities that traditional public schools automatically get diverts much needed funding from the classroom, forcing public charter schools to do more with less. Bugg said achieving equitable facilities funding is one of the Center’s top legislative priorities.
“Expecting a public school to cut, for example, the number of needed teaching positions in order to pay rent on a school building might seem illogical, but that is exactly the problem so many of our charter schools face year after year,” Bugg said. “Regardless of which type of public school they attend, all Tennessee students deserve equitable funding.”
Held to a higher standard of accountability than traditional public schools, but with the benefit of added autonomy that puts local school leaders and teachers in charge, Tennessee’s public charter schools are empowered to create a challenging and focused learning environment for students, while giving parents even more direct and meaningful opportunities to participate in their children’s education.
“Working together with traditional public schools, our goal is to ensure that ALL Tennessee students are receiving a high quality public education,“ Bugg said.