Metro Nashville Public Schools administrators are recommending that the board deny the only charter school application that has come in this year.
In a report sent to board members this week, district officials criticized the proposal from the nonprofit ReThink Forward, saying it wasn’t specific enough and the financial model was incomplete.
If the school board agrees with the recommendation, this would mark the fourth year that the district has shied away from charters, which are part of MNPS but run by private operaters.
That’s after years of consistent charter growth. Between 2011 and 2014, the board approved 19 applications for new charter schools or for existing charter schools to open new locations. Since 2015, the board has approved one.
Dennis Queen, who heads the Charter School Office within MNPS, says charters shouldn’t take that as a sign that the district doesn’t want new ones anymore. It’s just being more selective, he says: In addition to digging more into the application’s data to make sure it’s sound, the district is looking for an element of innovation.
“What we don’t want to do is continue to approve applications who come in and do no more than what a traditional school does,” he says. “What Nashville wants are schools … who bring to this district something that we have a deficit in.”
Previously, Queen says, any application with a specific, financially solid proposal would likely have been approved. Now, the bar to reach is higher. A winning application might bring a performing arts program to a neighborhood that lacks one or experiment with a practice that the district might want to replicate.
“We’re trying to be very intentional, very strategic, because in the early days, it was kind of haphazard,” Queen says. “And that was (the approach) across the country.”
To be more strategic, Queen’s office plans to start issuing requests for proposal — soliciting applications, rather than waiting for them to come in — around what the district thinks it’s missing, in the hopes that an aspiring charter will pop up and fill the gap.