OPINION: No matter the outcome of ACE school, charter commission process was shady

I’ve gotten the question a number of times over the past few months.

Do I think there should be a charter school in Jackson and Madison County?

Personally, I don’t have an opinion for two reasons: No one with any authority in this situation was going to base their decision on what I think and people I’ve talked to on both sides of the issue make logical arguments.

What I take issue with is the process of how things have played out in the last month or so.

American Classical Education applied for a charter school with Jackson-Madison County Schools in April, and it was denied.

They had a shot at an appeal, and that was denied in July.

They had a third shot with the State’s Charter Commission. They appealed again, provided a leader in the school building and a somewhat narrow vision for where they want to put their school in East Jackson. That’s why the Commission’s director Tess Stovall recommended approving the appeal, so we’re to surmise that’s the reasoning behind the Commission’s approval.

When JMCSS sent no one to the vote last week in Nashville, I was somewhat surprised because I assumed Superintendent Marlon King would’ve wanted someone from his organization there to make some kind of case against an approval.

But from what we saw, that representative would’ve been given two minutes to speak with no opportunity to answer questions from the commissioners.

And that’s just the rules of the meeting and vote.

That’s not even getting into the fact that the Commission is made of nine members – three from each grand division of the state. And all three of the West Tennesseans were from Shelby County.

Now within the bylaws of the Commission, no one can be on the Commission that resides in a county with no charter schools in them.

Which I’m sure someone with the Charter Commission or the state’s education department can defend on some level, but what if Shelby County had no charter schools? Would that mean that this nine-member Commission could’ve potentially made a decision about Madison County without a single member living west of the Cumberland River?

This body of Commissioners making this decision with this little actual involvement in anything having to do with Madison County may be totally straightforward, fair, impartial and just. None of them were at the hearing on Sept. 18 when ACE and JMCSS made their cases for and against the school. They could’ve talked to actual citizens on both sides of the matter.

But from the outside looking in, it looks like the state’s appointed commission – with its handpicked members, special meeting rules and lack of actual boots-on-the-ground communication with the people of Madison County – firmly placed JMCSS into a passenger train car and proceeded to railroad them into a charter school they didn’t see a benefit from.

And now the school district is understandably concerned about how much funds will be taken from their budget while they have to continue paying the same costs they incur without the charter school being present, taking apparently between 150 and 320 students with it (which would come close to equaling the loss of between nearly $1.5 million and $3.2 million since state funding for schools is equal to nearly $10,000 per student).

And speaking of the view from the outside looking in, there are a lot of people who have spoken in favor of this charter school in hearings and other public places that aren’t from Madison County, haven’t lived here very long or never enrolled their children or grandchildren in JMCSS schools. So they have no skin in the game. So they shouldn’t be allowed to play or have an influence over the rules of the game.

So two, five or 10 years from now, we may look back and say that ACE bringing a charter school to Jackson was a good thing. It may be so good that JMCSS implements ACE’s brand of classical education into its schools and we start to see this district improve in every metric in short order.

But even if it does, those of us who were here in 2023 when it was approved and initially accountable to the state and not the local education administration will remember the shady way it was shoe-horned into existence.

So assuming JMCSS doesn’t win any injunctions or appeals and ACAJM starts classes in August of 2025, let’s hope it works.

Because if it doesn’t work, it will be Madison Countians and Jacksonians who will have to deal with the repercussions.

Brandon Shields is the managing editor of The Jackson Post. Contact him at brandon@jacksonpost.news. Follow him on Twitter @JSEditorBrandon or Instagram @Editorbrandon.