Non-takeover options added to charter legislation

A proposal to eliminate a controversial charter school initiative from 2015 may instead breathe new life into the program.

New provisions will be added to the Achievement School District program, under an amendment to Senate Bill 430. The bill originally sought to dismantle the program, which was created to partner up to six underperforming schools with charter operators.

The proposal became a “political football,” bill sponsor and state Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, said. Denis said he hoped he was bringing forward a productive compromise after talking with state Department of Education officials and other interested parties.

“There needed to be additional options besides just a charter taking over a school,” Denis said.

The amendment would create a category beneath a charter takeover, where underperforming schools would take on several initiatives with an independent administrator helping to run the school in an effort to improve. For fiscal purposes, the school would stay part of the original district. The department has named those “A+ Schools.”

“If our only option was to turn the keys over to a charter management organization, what we are seeking is to add a second option to turn the keys over to a principal,” state Superintendent Steve Canavero said.

Performance compacts, created by the department this year, would also be written into law. Schools on the list to be turned into charters can instead opt to enter performance compacts with the state. As long as the schools are meeting goals under the performance compact, they will not be under consideration to be turned into a charter.

Finally, the amendment would allow parents at schools not on the list to be partnered with a charter to be able to petition into the program, if the parents and school community want more autonomy. Representatives from the Clark County School District and the Washoe County School District, the state’s two largest districts, spoke in opposition of the bill.

The amendment earned the approval of the Clark County Education Association, the local teachers union. John Vellardita, its executive director, said repealing the program wouldn’t be a political reality.

“These kinds of solutions come forward because we have a systemically large number of underperforming schools and we do not have the capacity in Clark County to address these with our turnaround model,” he said. “This is an option. It’s a compromise. We support it for that.”

However, the Nevada State Education Association, the state teachers union, spoke in opposition. Chris Daly, on the organization’s behalf, said its concerns supersede the upsides.

“We are seeking a third option to repeal the achievement charter school conversions and then to look at ways we can invest in and give real autonomy and accountability and resources to the struggling schools that need it,” he said.

Contact Meghin Delaney at 702-383-0281 or Follow @MeghinDelaney on Twitter.

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