Oct 27, 2022 - News

New nonprofit will study charter schools' financial impact

Illustration of a percent sign made out of apples and a pencil.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

A new nonprofit, nonpartisan group advocating for traditional public schools announced its launch earlier this month.

Driving the news: The group, Public School Partners, will begin with a project examining fiscal impact. The group says charter schools are hurting local school district budgets.

  • Former Nashville school board member Will Pinkston, a Democrat and staunch opponent of charter school expansion, and former Wilson County Schools superintendent Donna Wright, a Republican, are among the group's leaders.

Why it matters: The expansion of charter schools has spread beyond Nashville and Memphis in the last few years. As charter schools have applied to open in suburban and rural counties, scrutiny of their financial impact has escalated.

  • Charter schools are funded with tax dollars but operated by independent nonprofit organizations.
  • The issue reached a crescendo this year as charter schools affiliated with Hillsdale College applied to open new schools in Tennessee.

State of play: Pinkston says Public School Partners wants local government officials — including mayors, county commissioners, school board members and superintendents — to be better educated about the financial impact of charter schools.

  • The initial batch of research includes a study by school funding advocate Derek Black, who argues that charter schools hurt school district budgets because of fixed costs. Black's study was funded with a grant by the Tennessee Education Association, which serves as the state teachers union.
  • Public School Partners' website features a tool that compares the per-pupil funding each local government receives from the state. Per-pupil state funding varies based on a local government's capacity to generate tax dollars for education.

What she's saying: "Whether you're opposed to charters or support charters, there are clear limitations and financial impacts on any school district's budget. Fixed costs like transportation, operations, maintenance, and utilities all have to be maintained by school districts, regardless of whether they're rural, urban, or suburban," Wright tells Axios over email.

The other side: Since charter schools are funded mostly with tax money that follows the student, advocates maintain they don't have a negative financial impact.

  • Charter schools are touted as providing an alternative to district-run schools. In Nashville and Memphis, they primarily serve economically disadvantaged students.
  • Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, supports charter schools and has made it easier for them to be approved in Tennessee.

The big picture: Pinkston tells Axios that in a future project he wants to "shine a brighter light" on the inadequacy of state education funding for local governments.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include Donna Wright's political affiliation. Wright is a Republican.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Nashville.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Nashville stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Nashville.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more