Viewpoint: Justin Owen ‘Tennessee’s Charter School Community is Under Attack’

Justin Owen


By Justin Owens, January 24, 2023 

Tennessee has some of the nation’s strongest laws allowing for charter schools. This rich environment has led to more than 100 new school options serving nearly 45,000 families, as well as years of outstanding academic performance. 

Charter schools are public schools that are governed by a nonprofit board of directors. While charter schools administer the same tests and are held to the same standards as traditional public schools, they have more flexibility over their curriculum, length of school days, and other areas that allow them to innovate. Some charter schools focus on STEM (science, tech, engineering, and math) while others are more arts-focused. Charters provide families with a variety of options to choose from based on the particular interests and needs of their children.

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Despite a track record of academic success and parental satisfaction, Tennessee’s charter school community is under attack. Union-backed organizations are cropping up to throw cold water on charter school growth and are painting them as everything they are not: money-grubbing, for-profit, and harmful to the public school system.



Herein lies the problem with these attacks: not only are they patently and provably false, but they also show the problem with this line of thinking: they prioritize adults over children. Charter schools have been undeniably beneficial to children’s academic attainment. Yet, their opponents routinely overlook this to talk about money, money, money. Who cares if the traditional public school systems—primarily those where charters have proliferated—have a decades-long track record of educational failure? In their eyes, in order to make sure the districts still get the money allocated for each child, those children should be forced to remain in their failing schools. 

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To preserve this gravy train, charter opponents have begun publishing “research” attempting to show that charter schools drain resources from the public school system. Never mind that every time a child leaves their zoned public school for a charter school, that zoned school no longer has the cost of educating that child. We debunked this same argument when it was made against the state’s private school choice or ESA program, showing that school districts actually save money when kids choose another option.

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Money should follow the children to the charter schools that are actually educating them now, not the school they left because it was failing them then. We should not let these new special interests funded by old special interests weaken our charter school options by putting what’s best for adults more interested in money before children in need of quality education.