DeBerry thought for-profit charter bill would die

A push to allow three new charter schools a year to hire for-profit companies to run their schools won a narrow 8-7 victory in the House Education Committee Tuesday.

Going into today’s committee meeting, Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, thought the bill would likely die if put to a vote. He had resolved to delay the measure for a week, he said, adding “I know for a fact going in I probably didn’t have the votes.”

Under the bill, local school districts would have the final say over whether a charter school can hire the outside help from a for-profit management company. DeBerry argues the shift would allow schools to contract out what they need, not unlike contracts state or local governments engage in.

Before voting, the committee agreed to cap the reach of the bill. The measure now limits a total of three charters per year statewide to contract with for-profit school operators. The limit would hold for five years, allowing three new charter schools to ask the district for that option each year.

The bill now heads to the House floor. The version is different from the Senate, which never debated possible caps. The Senate bill also awaits a floor vote.

Rep. Joe Pitts, D-Clarksville, is wary operators will be more profit-driven and less focused on students. “They’re contracting out the entire operation of the school, not just the lunch room, not just the bus service, not just landscaping. The entire operation and that’s the distinction,” he said.