Tenn. charter school startup fee increasing

Rick Wagner • Updated Nov 10, 2017 at 3:45 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — If a charter school were proposed to the Sullivan County school system next academic year, the startup would have to pay a $2,500 fee to apply and an ongoing annual “authorizing fee” of 3 percent per student Tennessee and local funding or $35,000, whichever is less. And standardized tests would count for 15 percent of a student’s grade, assuming the subject has such a test and results are available in time.

The Sullivan County Board of Education plans to change its test and charter school policy effective for the 2018-19 academic year, with the application fee going from $500 to $2,500. The test and charter school changes reflect changes in state law. The BOE is to review the policy changes Monday and vote on them Dec. 4. 

How much should standardized test scores count toward student grades?

At the 6 p.m. Monday BOE meeting, the board is to review a staff recommendation to make TCAP (Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program) tests or EOC (end-of-course) tests account for 15 percent of a student’s grade in courses where the test is available and when the results are available at least five instructional days before the end of the semester.

So far, that’s not been happening in Tennessee, and in those cases the director of schools or superintendent can waive the test weighting. The state allows a range of 15 percent to 25 percent.

“We haven’t met this five-day deadline yet,” Rafalowski said of the state’s testing vendor. The next round of EOCs at the high schools will begin late this month, and the last day of school is Dec. 20. If a senior is graduating early or the EOC is for a second-semester class, forcing the weighting could put school systems in the odd position of retroactively changing an already graduated student’s final course grade.

Why a 500 percent cost increase for a charter school application?

Board member Mark Ireson questioned the 500 percent increase from $500 to $2,500 since the law says “up to” $2,500.

Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski responded that she believes the fee is meant to ensure charter school applicants are serious. And board member Matthew Spivey said he believes the maximum of $2,500 is still too low given the amount of work school systems must do on charter school applications. The school board so far hasn’t had to consider a charter school application, but such applications and schools are more common in other parts of the state.

“We were at the max before,” Spivey said, adding that the $2,500 is still an “under-compensation” for local school systems. “I still don’t even think it offsets the costs.”

Other changes include some language adjustments and giving proposed charter schools 30 days to submit an amended application if the school board turns down the first application. The current policy gives a 15-day window to amend and reapply.

The Tennessee School Boards Association recommended the charter school applications policy change because of two law changes, Public Chapter 307 and Public Chapter 361, both of which went into effect July 1.