HomeOpinionOPINION: Local control of education is in danger

OPINION: Local control of education is in danger

By Larry Greer

Guest columnist

For much of the past year, the prospect of a charter school in Madison County has drawn considerable attention. In 2022, American Classical Education (ACE) applied to establish a charter school in each of three Tennessee counties–Madison, Montgomery and Rutherford. Following state guidelines, the local school board conducted a thorough review of the school’s application. After a rigorous review and community input, the board voted to deny approval of the school. Similarly, Montgomery and Rutherford counties also rejected their ACE applications. All three rejections were appealed to the state charter school commission, but the appeals were withdrawn at the eleventh hour.

Early this year, ACE again submitted applications to the original three districts and added Maury and Robertson Counties to their effort. All but Rutherford County denied the applications on first review. ACE accepted the rejection in Montgomery and Robertson but submitted revised applications in Madison and Maury Counties.

Jackson-Madison County Schools conducted another exhaustive review of the revised application. When the review committee made its report to the board, it noted more than 70 deficiencies in the revised application–an astounding increase of about 20 from the initial submission.

As expected, the school board voted to reject ACE’s second application after hearing the dismal report and public comment, which was generally opposed to the charter school. It is notable that only one board member–Harvey Walden–has ever cast a vote in support of the ACE school. With such a degree of local opposition, that would seem to be the end of the matter. But not in Tennessee.

Procedures established by the state legislature a couple of years ago provide for an appeal to a state commission appointed solely by the Governor in the event of a school board’s rejection of an application. Madison County is now at that point. The duly elected representatives of the people serving on the school board have voted overwhelmingly and consistently against authorizing this particular charter school. School district staff have spent countless hours reviewing both applications. A diverse group of community members were involved in the review process which determined that neither application met acceptable standards for approval. 

Having served on the Ad Hoc Review Committee, I have been a keen observer of this process. I was shocked to read in The Tennessee Lookout a few days ago that the Madison County board had been harshly criticized for a “lack of integrity in the review process.” That charge has no basis in reality, but it was leveled by former State Senator Delores Gresham. One could easily wonder why a retired legislator from Fayette County is lambasting another county’s local school board. The reason is simple–Gresham heads the ACE board. She will apparently say anything to further her agenda to force an unwanted charter school on a resistant school district. According to The Tennessee Lookout, Gresham said the Maury County charter approval process was “illegitimate.” Notably, the ACE board includes only one Madison County resident, County Commissioner Joey Hale.

Regardless of how one feels about charter schools in general and this charter school in particular, the Madison County school board has acted in good faith. School staff exhibited the highest level of excellence in reviewing the charter school application (twice) and delineating its multitudinous deficiencies. A majority in the community appear to agree with the decision of its elected body to reject the ACE application. That should be the end of the story, but it is not.

Because of legislation pushed by the Governor and approved by the super majority in the Legislature, local control of education could be wiped away in this case by a non-elected group of outsiders appointed solely by the Governor. The only hope of retaining local control is a strong outpouring of public support for the school board and its decision. The Governor’s commission is expected to conduct a local hearing on the appeal on Sept. 18 at 10 a.m. at the Board office.

Madison County’s State Senator and one of its State Representatives should be reminded that this is what their majority voted for.

Larry Greer is the chairman of the Madison County Democratic Party. The Jackson Post’s opinion/editorial page is meant to help launch public discussion of local issues or allow local people to discuss national or statewide issues. Publication of a column is not an endorsement of that column by The Post, its owners or any of its advertisers or employees. To join the discussion, send a guest column or letter to the editor to brandon@jacksonpost.news. Submissions for a specific week’s print edition need to be sent by Monday night. Sending does not guarantee publication that week as that is based on space availability.

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