Charter schools are poised for a major expansion in Tennessee, with some of the sector's biggest and best-known operators swooping into the state as part of an effort to turn around struggling schools.
State officials last week said they had approved seven charter management organizations to open new schools. In the next seven years, they will open 41 schools serving an estimated 15,000 students in the Achievement School District, or ASD, a state program aimed at improving low-achieving schools, which was created through Tennessee's Race to the Top plan. The state was awarded $500 million in the grant competition.
The organizations approved to operate new charters in either Nashville or Memphis include the Knowledge Is Power Program or KIPP, Rocketship Education, Aspire Public Schools, LEAD Public Schools, Capstone Education Group, and Gestalt Community Schools. The charter groups' work will begin with their opening nine new campuses in Memphis and Nashville during the 2013-14 school year, with expansion to follow.
Applicants to open schools through the ASD went through a screening process that included interviews with members of the community and other reviews, state officials said. The improvement district is to focus on schools in the bottom 5 percent of performance.
"We have some of the best schools in the country competing to serve our students in Tennessee," Malika Anderson, the chief portfolio officer for the ASD, said in a statement.
Some of the operators that were approved to open new charters already have a presence in Tennessee.
KIPP, for instance, runs charter schools in Nashville and Memphis, with plans for more in the works before the state's announcement. (Nationwide, KIPP is in 20 states and the District of Columbia and serves 33,000 students.)
Other operators are new to the region. Aspire Public Schools, which serves 12,000 students at 34 schools, has been based solely in California so far. Rocketship Education, also based in California, recently announced plans to expand to the Milwaukee school system. It also recently had charters approved in Indianapolis and New Orleans, a Rocketship spokeswoman said.