Mar 7, 2022 - News

Scoop: State bill paves way for mayoral takeover of schools

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Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

A new state proposal could force some Tennessee school districts to switch from elected to mayoral-appointed boards if they have a trend of academically struggling schools.

Why it matters: The legislation, backed by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, would overhaul how Nashville's school district operates and dramatically shift power to the mayor.

Details: New bill language would require a mayor to start appointing school board members if a school district has at least 10 schools on the annual priority school list for three consecutive years.

  • Elected school board members would finish their terms under the legislation, but the mayor would appoint their replacements.

State of play: There were 21 Metro Nashville Public schools on the most recent priority schools list, which hasn't been released since 2019 due to the pandemic.

  • Shelby County is the other district that typically has the highest number of priority schools.
  • Axios first reported last year the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce was exploring the possibility of legislation that would establish a path to mayoral-run schools.

What they're saying: "As it's currently written, the amendment does address the Chamber's public education priorities of improved student performance, local control, and aligned accountability," Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce chief talent development officer Stephanie Coleman tells Axios.

  • The legislation is sponsored by Republican lawmakers Rep. Mark White and Sen. Jon Lundberg.
  • State Sen. Heidi Campbell, D-Nashville, bashed the proposal as "an astonishing slap in the face of voters in Memphis and Nashville. The state has an incredibly poor record of running school districts, and this shameful legislation would further undermine local control of our schools."

The big picture: The legislation would also create a state "high priority oversight committee," with members appointed by the governor, speaker of the House, lieutenant governor, mayor and education commissioner.

  • That committee would be in charge of approving a corrective action plan to improve the school district that the mayor would be required to develop.

What's next: The proposal was filed as an amendment to a placeholder bill. Lawmakers are scheduled to consider the bill this week in a House committee and a Senate committee.

Editor's note: This story was updated to include a quote from State Sen. Heidi Campbell.

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