In what has become a test of a new state law opening up charter school enrollment, the State Board of Education Friday morning voted unanimously to send a controversial charter application from Arizona-based Great Hearts Academies back to the Metro Nashville School Board for quick approval provided certain stipulations are met.
The Great Hearts application for one school in the affluent Hillwood area of Nashville and eventually four others throughout Metro has been denied twice by the school board, but the charter school appealed to the state in a rare move to circumvent the local decision.
The state board's executive director Dr. Gary Nixon had recommended approval from the members, but they made an amendment that the Metro School Board takes up the Great Hearts application at its next meeting on August 14.
By law, the Metro School Board is required to approve the charter application if it meets three stipulations attached to the appeal.
Those stipulations aim to address concerns raised by the Metro School Board and its Director of Schools Jesse Register.
The three areas center on the following: Greats Hearts using certified teachers, developing a diversity plan that mirrors similar policy for other charters and being approved for just one school instead of all five Nashville schools with one application.
During the Great Hearts debate, much was made about the charter being in the middle of a wealthy, predominantly white Nashville neighborhood and questions about the school using some non-licensed teachers.
The state board action raised the question about what would happen if Metro ignored the directive and denied Great Hearts' application a third time.
"That's between Great Hearts, Metro and the courts," said Nixon of the state board in a reference to likely legal action if the charter was denied again by the Metro School Board.
Register said in a statement that he had not yet seen the written resolution from the state granting Great Hearts appeal, but in a letter to the board urging it to uphold the Metro School Board denial, the schools director wrote in part "Dr. Nixon's recommendation replaces a thoughtful, transparent and rigorous review with a less thorough, less effective process. It also penalizes local, elected school boards for seeking to hear from all sides in making important decisions."
Several representatives of Great Hearts were at the state board meeting, but declined to make on-camera statements afterwards.