Charter Schools: Student Saviors Or Dollar Drains?

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Knoxville (WVLT) - East Tennessee apparently will be getting its first charter school, partly the state education department says, because Knox County's School Board waited too long to fight it.

Volunteer TV's Gordon Boyd takes a look at how a shift in your tax dollars could bring choice and change.

Charter schools are semi-independent public schools. How independent varies state to state, but Tennessee's laws are fairly strict.

Knox County's debate is whether a specific charter school would create choice, or just duplicate it.

"I hadn't been going to school for over a year," 16-year-old "Tiara" says, pregnancy alone is not what got her into the Crittenton Center's 40 student private high school, the New Pathways Academy.

"It's not like a regular school. None of this talking. No one going to the bathroom smoking cigarettes, or passing drugs or having sex," says "Tiara".

"We already have a track record of serving girls who have failed academics because of social, emotional, behavioral issues," says Cile Matthews, Crittenton Center Director.

Tax Dollars, Crittenton's Director says, will turn an unused 10,000 square foot classroom complex into Knox County's first charter school. A 110 student Knoxville Academy for Young Women

Crittenden's campus is self-contained. Behavior and substance abuse counseling on site.
In theory, a charter school not only could custom tailor teaching, but treatment too.

The problem, Knox County Schools Curriculum Director says, Tennessee law lets children enroll in charter schools only if they or their current schools are judged failing.

"That becomes a contentious issue, because dollars are not plentiful for public school districts. And when it is something you already are providing and becomes replicated again, it becomes a little difficult," says Dr. Donna Wright from Knox County Schools.

A Charter School takes, not only public school tax dollars, it can raise other monies.

But, Crittenton's Director says, Knoxville Academy still will have to answer to the school board.

"Tiara" is pretty sure where she'd be otherwise.

"Getting my GED. But you can't even do that 'til you're 15. So I guess I'd be home doing nothing," says "Tiara".

Knox County schools will negotiate a contract with Crittenton's Knoxville Academy.

Once it opens, or if it opens, Crittenton's private school will close.

Bigger question, from which county's school districts money pots get raided? Fully three-quarters of the girls referred to Crittenton, are outside Knox County.