Charter Schools FAQ

Charter schools are public schools operated by independent, non-profit governing bodies that must include parents. In Tennessee, public charter school students are measured against the same academic standards as students in other public schools. Local boards of education ensure that only those charter schools open and remain open that are meeting the needs of their students, district and community. Local boards do this through rigorous authorization processes, ongoing monitoring of the academic and financial performance of charter schools, and, when necessary, through the revocation or non-renewal of charters.

The questions below are sorted by subject area. The Tennessee Public Charter Schools Act is contained in Tennessee Code Annotated (T.C.A.). Title 49, Chapter 13. Accept the terms of agreement by clicking the "I Agree" button. To access, enter "49-13" in the Search Field and hit "Search".

Many of these answers are adapted from the FAQs provided by the Tennessee School Boards Association  

Changes to Tennessee’s Charter School Law

Under PC307, LEA's serving as charter authorizers may collect a yearly authorizing fee from their charter school operators. This fee shall be the lesser of 3% of the per pupil revenue of the school or $35,000. The authorizing fee may only be used to fulfill authorizing obligations.


  1. A sponsor may apply directly to a local board of education to receive a charter.
  2. A local board of education may convert an existing school to a charter school (but the local board must give control of the charter school to an independent governing body).
  3. Parents or teachers (60%) at a particular school may petition the local board of education to convert an existing school to a charter school.
  4. Charter schools may be authorized by the State Board of Education upon appeal from a denial of approval of a charter school application by an LEA that contains at least one (1) priority school on the current or last preceding priority school list.

Pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 49-13-104(5), the chartering authority may be the local board of education (LEA), the achievement school district, or the state board of education.

Though a few states allow for-profit entities to operate public charter schools, and many states allow non-profit charter school governing bodies to contract with for-profit entities to operate or manage charter schools, Tennessee law prohibits either of those arrangements. Tennessee Code Annotated § 49-13-104(7) defines the sponsor: as “any individual, group, or other organization filing an application in support of the establishment of a public charter school . . .” That section notes that “a sponsor cannot be a for-profit entity.” The law requires the governing body, which operates the charter school to be “a not-for-profit organization” with 501(c)(3) exemption. The law in that same section (§ 49-13-106)(b)(1)(B)) says “no charter shall be granted to a for-profit corporation.” Tennessee law does allow a charter school governing body to “contract for services,” but it specifically limits that authority: “except for the management or operation of the charter school by a for-profit entity.” So, a charter school could contract with a for-profit entity for limited services, but cannot give up the actual management or operation of the school to that entity.

No.  The governing body of the public charter school is responsible for managing and operating the public charter school.  There are certain laws (or statutes) and rules that charter schools must follow, such as licensing of teachers, open meetings and public records, civil rights, health and safety standards, public records, immunizations, open meetings, etc. (see Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-13-105 and 111), the sponsor of a proposed charter school may apply either to the local board of education or the commissioner of education for a waiver of any state board rule or statute that inhibits or hinders the proposed charter school’s ability to meet its goals or comply with its mission statement.  Charter schools are not required to follow local board of education policies, but the policies of the governing body of the charter school.

All students residing within the jurisdiction of the chartering authority may attend a public charter school.  Also, chartering authority may authorize charters to enroll students residing outside the LEA in which the public charter school is located pursuant to the LEA out-of-district enrollment policy. 

For those charters authorized by the Achievement School District, all students within the LEA who are zoned to attend or enrolled in a school that is eligible to be placed in the achievement school district are eligible.

A charter school authorized by the state board may enroll any student in the LEA in which the charter school is located.  A charter school authorized by the state board may accept students from outside the LEA if certain conditions apply (TCA § 49-13-113).  

Charter schools must enroll all students if they submit a timely application and if space permits.

Pursuant to T.C.A. § 49-13-113, if a charter school is over capacity after the application period, then the charter school will initiate an enrollment and lottery preference process.

Prior to a lottery:

  • Charter school operators shall enroll pupils in attendance in the previous school year at the existing public charter school.
  • Charter school operators may enroll children of a teacher, sponsor or member of the governing body of the charter school, not to exceed ten percent (10%) of total enrollment or twenty-five (25) students, whichever is less.

If the number of applications exceeds the planned capacity of a charter school program, class, grade level, or building, students will be selected randomly by lottery giving preferences in the following order:

  1. Students enrolled in a pre-K program operated by the charter school sponsor
  2. Students enrolled in a charter school that has an articulation agreement with the enrolling public charter school
  3. Siblings of students already enrolled in the public charter school
  4. Students from groups set forth in T.C.A. 49-13-106(b)(1)(C) if the public charter school has been approved with the focus of serving such students
  5. Students residing within the LEA service area in which the public charter school is located who were enrolled in another public school during the previous school year
  6. Students residing outside the LEA service area in which the public charter school is located and who were attending a public school during the previous school year

No. Charter schools may not refuse to enroll students because of their eligibility for special education services. T.C.A. § 49-13-111(b). Though charter schools may not presently have the infrastructure or personnel to meet the needs of special education students identified in the students’ individualized education programs (IEPs), charter schools are responsible for ensuring their students receive those services.

Because Tennessee charter schools are considered part of the chartering authority, the chartering authority must treat the chartered schools just as any other school in the district in the provision of and monitoring of special education services.

In some cases, the charter school may contract with the local board of education to provide the services through a separate fee for services contract to ensure funding is directed to the entity providing the services.   

A team of LEA special education directors, State Department and Board of Education staff and national special education experts developed primers for charter school sponsors, authorizers and operators relative to the provision of special education services. 

Special Education in Tennessee Public Charter Schools Primer

Charter schools, by law, have a different governance structure, but their formation alone does not distinguish them.  Differences and similarities vary based on the individual charter school and the public schools located within the same community.  As authorizers of public charter schools, the chartering authority can determine what kinds of charter schools are authorized. 

The purposes of the Public Charter Schools Act, including providing “options relative to the governance and improvement of high priority schools, the delivery of instruction for those students with special needs, improv[ing] learning for all students and clos[ing] the achievement gap[s],” can be accomplished in any LEA school.  T.C.A. § 49-13-102.  However, chartered schools “provide [one] alternative means within the public school system for ensuring accomplishment of the necessary outcomes of education by allowing the establishment and maintenance of public charter schools that operate within a school district structure but are allowed maximum flexibility to achieve their goals.”  T.C.A. § 49-13-102.

No.  T.C.A. § 49-13-104(7) defines sponsors of charter schools (those who file the applications). That subsection includes this prohibition: "a sponsor cannot be . . . a religious or church school or promote the agenda of any religious denomination or religiously affiliated entity."

Federal law also prohibits a charter school from being operated by a religious organization.

ESEA Sec. 5210(1)(E) defines a charter school as "a public school that . . . is nonsectarian in its programs, admissions policies, employment practices, and all other operations, and is not affiliated with a sectarian school or religious institution."

Public charter school students are students of the school district (LEA).  If they want to transfer from one public school to another (whether chartered or not), they would have to comply with the LEA’s transfer policy (and they would have the same right of appeal as all students eligible to attend the public schools).

At any public school, including a public charter school, concerns about school operations should first be directed to the school, starting with the teacher or school administrator with oversight over the particular issue. From there, you can take concerns to the charter school’s governing body—an independent, non-profit governing body that must include a parent of a child at the school.

The chartering authority has the ultimate purview over a charter school, and failure to comply with the law or meet the terms of the charter agreement (including meeting academic performance goals) may be grounds for the LEA or state board to revoke the charter and close the school.

So, if you do not feel that your concern was adequately addressed by the school leader or the governing body, you can share your concerns with the LEA or state board staff member with responsibility for charter school issues.

If you feel that a child is being discriminated against because of disability, national origin, sex or race, you should contact the local school district's civil rights officer and/or the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.

If you believe that child abuse has occurred, you should contact the Department of Children’s Services.

Application, Approval and Revocation

Data from Tennessee charter schools approved or overseen by a LEA is included with LEA level data (the charter schools, of course, must provide the data to the LEA).   

Data from Tennessee charter schools approved by the state board of education and not overseen by a LEA is not included with LEA level data.

No. The law does not allow further negotiation after approval of the charter by the chartering authorities. Just like any other contract approved by the chartering authorities, the charter agreement should be ready to sign when the board votes to approve the charter.  See T.C.A. § 49-13-110 and AG opinion 10-45.

Local boards of education are the authorizers of public charter schools. They decide which charter school applications are approved or denied.

The chartering authority may require a charter school sponsor to pay the chartering authority an application fee of up to $2,500 with each charter school application. The local board shall receive an annual authorizer fee that is the lesser of 3% of the annual per student and local allocations or $35,000 per school. This fee shall be used exclusively for fulfilling authorizing obligations.

The Tennessee public charter school commission (charter commission) may receive appeals of denials of charter school applications by the local school district. 

The charter commission reviews applications on appeal in accordance with the state board of education's quality public charter school authorizing standards. If the charter commission finds that the application meets or exceeds the metrics outlined in the department of education's application-scoring rubric and that approval of the application is in the best interests of the students, local district, or community, then the charter commission may approve the public charter school's application. The commission's decision is final and is not subject to appeal. If the commission approves an application, then the commission is the authorizer and the district for that public charter school.

Pursuant to State Board of Education Rule 0520-14-01, the department of education provides the application charter school sponsors must use when applying to a local board of education for a charter school, and sample scoring criteria for the local board of education to use when evaluating applications.

Other than providing those materials, the department of education doesnot play any role in the approval process. The Charter Commission (not the department.) may hear appeals of denials by local boards of education.  T.C.A. § 49-13-108.

Yes. A chartering authority shall take into account the performance, including both student growth and achievement, of any charter school operated by the sponsor. T.C.A. § 49-13-107 requires sponsors to include in their applications the “proposed instructional goals and methods,” the “proposed rules and policies for governance and operation of the school,” “the qualifications required of employees of the proposed public charter school,” and identification of the sponsoring individuals and proposed governing body members. If those or other elements of the application are common to an existing school, it would be reasonable for the authorizer to assess whether approving another school with similar leadership, operational plans or instructional methods would be “in the best interests of the pupils, the school district, or community.” T.C.A. § 49-13-108.

Yes. Authorizers are required to review the capacity of the sponsoring organization and proposed governing body to comply with applicable laws; hire, supervise and train staff; implement an academic program; and manage millions of dollars in order to help students meet the goals established in the charter application. T.C.A. § 49-13-107. If the same organization is proposing to launch multiple schools, the authorizer may determine that the sponsor has only demonstrated the capacity to do all of those things in some, but not all of the proposed schools. The authorizer may determine that approving all of the schools at the same time would not be “in the best interests of the pupils, the school district, or community.” T.C.A. § 49-13-108. Tennessee law does not allow an authorizer to approve a single charter for multiple schools. However, a sponsor seeking to open additional schools could duplicate applicable portions of the sponsor’s earlier applications and include the performance of existing schools in applications for new schools.


Charter schools are public schools operated by independent, non-profit governing bodies that must include parents. In Tennessee, charter schools are still part of the LEA in which they operate (in some states, charter schools function as their own LEA).

The chartering authority ensure that only those charter schools open and remain open that are meeting the needs of their students. Chartering authorities do this through rigorous authorization processes, ongoing monitoring of the academic and financial performance of charter schools, and, when necessary, through the revocation or non-renewal of charters. See, e.g., T.C.A. §§ 49-13-108, 111, 120, and 122. Charter schools must provide annual audits, performance and financial reports to the chartering authority (and to the department of education). One year prior to the renewal application deadline, the chartering authority shall send the charter school a performance report that directly reflects the renewal evaluation.

A public charter school agreement shall be revoked or denied renewal by the final chartering authority if the school receives identification as a priority school. Such revocation shall take effect immediately following the close of the school year in which the school is identified as a priority school. This does not apply to school authorized by the ASD unless the school receives identification as a priority school for 2 consecutive years.

A public charter school agreement may be revoked at any time or not renewed by the final chartering authority if the chartering authority determines that the school committed a material violation of any conditions, standards, or procedures in the charter agreement, failed to meet or make sufficient progress toward the performance expectations set forth in the charter agreement, or failed to meet generally accepted standards of fiscal management.

Chartering authorities must develop and adopt a performance framework for all schools authorized for operation. If a chartering authority does not develop and adopt their own framework, it must adopt the model performance framework developed by the department.

The Dept. of Education currently oversees a federal charter schools program grant that includes competitive sub-grants for the planning year and first two years of operation of charter schools that receive the grants ($600,000 spread over those three years). The department of education has ongoing monitoring of those schools receiving grants, including on-site visits and data collection.

The department also provides regular training for local boards of education to help them increase their capacity as authorizers.

Out of the annual reports required in T.C.A. § 49-13-120, the department of education provides an annual report to the legislature on all public charter schools in Tennessee. The department also helps disseminate best practices between charter and non-charter public schools, T.C.A. § 49-13-131, and has served on legislatively appointed task forces studying charter school issues in the State.

Yes, the money does follow the students, to the entity responsible for educating those students. In the case of students attending non-chartered public schools, the LEA (or central office) decides how to spend most of those funds. For public charter schools, however, the money flows all the way to the school the students attend. The principal of a public charter school and the school’s governing body decide how to allocate funds for personnel, facilities, curriculum, supplies and other operating costs. Details about which funds follow charter school students, broken down by each LEA, are available here.

Tennessee law requires local boards of education to "allocate to the charter school an amount equal to the per student state and local funds received by the LEA and all appropriate allocations under federal law or regulation, including, but not limited to, Title I and ESEA funds."  T.C.A. 49-13-112(a). All local and State funds generated for education, “excluding the proceeds of debt obligations and associated debt service,” are paid to the charter schools, on a per pupil basis. Federal funds, such as Title I funds (funds dedicated to helping students eligible for free or reduced price lunch) flow to the district or school, based on federal regulations. LEAs submit a plan for a portion of these funds to be used for district-wide services. Another portion is dedicated for schools (whether chartered or not) with a majority of poor students, for school-wide services. Public charter schools may participate in district-wide programs funded with those federal funds in the same manner as other non-chartered public schools.

Just like other public schools, public charter schools may fund programs by applying for local, State and federal grants, and seeking donations from individuals and organizations.

Because public charter schools do not receive proceeds from existing bond offerings used to pay for new construction or capital improvement of other public school facilities, charter schools often use more of their existing revenue to cover facilities costs than LEAs. Public charter schools may seek their own bond funding for facilities, with the chartering authority’s approval, or may have their request included with an LEA’s bond request. T.C.A. 49-13-124(b).

A public charter school may choose to purchase services from the LEA in which the school is located. If a charter agreement includes a provision whereby the chartering authority will provide services, then the chartering authority may withhold funds to cover the costs of those services.

Charter schools may receive funds to meet the needs of eligible students through the BEP, federal IDEA Part B funds and high-cost reimbursements if received by the LEA from the State. BEP funds are generated on an on-going basis, regardless of the level of need at an individual school. IDEA funds are provided on a reimbursement basis for services provided. LEAs submit high cost reimbursement from the State at the end of each year. Qualifying services provided to students at any public school in the LEA, including charter schools, should be included in that LEA request to the State.

The BEP Blue Book shows that several positions are generated specifically for special education. Those positions are generated and then funded at a certain rate. By taking those special ed. positions generated (classroom teachers, supervisors, assistants, etc.), multiplying them by the appropriate rate (includes salary & benefits), and then divide by the prior year’s total average daily membership, a charter school can determine the amount generated for special education. This funding is not additional funding, but it is generated for charter schools to help meet special education needs.

A charter school, like an LEA, is generally not required to provide transportation to students. If the charter school decides to provide transportation and does so in compliance with Tennessee statutes on transportation (§ 49-6-2110 et. seq.), the transportation component of BEP funds would flow to the charter school. The BEP transportation component is paid for all students at the school, not just those actually using the transportation (just as the State pays LEAs transportation funds regardless of how many students use the service).

State and Federal special education and homeless education laws (e.g., IDEA or McKinney-Vento) may mandate charter schools provide transportation to certain students, even if the school is not otherwise providing transportation.

The applicable laws are found in T.C.A. § 49-6-2101 through 2118, and State Board of Education Rule 0520-01-05. These include the following provisions:

  • Annual inspection of buses by the Department of Safety (49-6-2109(d)), and
  • Limits on the age of school buses used to transport students (49-6-2109 and rule 0520-01-05-.01(6)).

More information on pupil transportation can be found:

  • The TN Pupil Transportation Resources Directory, available on the department of education's website, provides an overview and links to extensive resources on pupil transportation.
  • By contacting Sam Cameron, who oversees transportation issues for the Dept. of Education, or (423) 883-3527, or
  • By contacting Lt. Ray Robinson, who oversees pupil transportation and school bus inspections for the Dept. of Safety, or (615) 812-8435.
  • By contacting your LEA’s transportation office.

Any public school in Tennessee may use blended learning as part of its curriculum. Blended learning may be defined as mixing different learning environments. Today, “blended learning” is usually used to describe environments that use computers and online resources instead of or in addition to a reduced amount of paper-based materials like workbooks and worksheets.

The Virtual Public Schools Act regulates situations where students could participate in public education from someplace other than a public school. It does not appear to prohibit blended learning in any public school. T.C.A. § 49-16-203(2) defines a “virtual school” as “a public school in which the school uses technology in order to deliver a significant portion of instruction to its students via the Internet in a virtual or remote setting.” And, T.C.A. § 49-13-106(c)(2) states that “no cyber-based public charter school may be authorized.” In this context, “cyber-based” seems synonymous with “virtual.” Neither the Virtual Public Schools Act nor the Public Charter Schools Act seems to prohibit a charter school from incorporating computers and online resources as part of the instruction overseen by licensed teachers in the school building.

Students in any public school may use online or computer-based materials as part of the instruction overseen by licensed teachers (T.C.A. § 49-13-111(i) requires all teachers in a public charter school to be licensed.). Tennessee law allows teachers to deliver instruction in a variety of ways, including through physical textbooks and workbooks, student-led instruction, online or electronic media, and in coordination with tutors or educational assistants or specialists. In other words, Tennessee public school teachers may send students to a computer lab monitored by an educational assistant, to complete assigned online or electronic materials. This is similar to students spending time in a study hall, monitored by an educational assistant, completing material in a physical workbook for social studies or history class.

A school incorporating blended learning can meet the class size requirements set in T.C.A. § 49-1-104. The law sets specific average class sizes per grade level unit (K-3, 4-6 and 7-12) and maximum class sizes that schools must adhere to. Certain classes may exceed the limits (e.g., art or physical education), and the limits do not apply to pullout classes. Having students spend parts of their day in a learning lab (overseen by an educational assistant) would not negatively affect the class size as long as the groups of students meeting with the licensed teachers met the applicable limits. Public charter schools may apply for waivers from the average class size, if compliance with the statute would hinder the school’s proposed mission.

Below are examples of public schools that purposefully incorporate “blended” learning into their academic programs:

Merrol Hyde Magnet School (Hendersonville, Tennessee):

A PLATO/Learning Lab provides computer based differentiated instruction to help students who may need remediation or enrichment in various courses. The lab director coordinates assignments with individual teachers.

East End Preparatory School (Nashville, Tennessee):

Students rotate through classes with three teachers each day: language arts, math and science, and a third block of time that includes either supplemental, individualized work in the learning lab, arts or social studies.

An eligible public school may convert to a public charter school in three ways. The parents of sixty percent (60%) of the children enrolled at the school or sixty percent (60%) of the teachers assigned to the school may petition the LEA. The LEA must agree for the school to be converted. Or, an LEA may convert an eligible public school on its own initiative. Or, a charter school sponsor may apply to an LEA to convert an existing public school to a charter school to serve the students zoned to the school. Decisions to convert a public school to a public charter school are not appealable to the state board of education.

Tennessee law requires charter school applications initiated by sponsors to follow the same application timeline and process used for new charter schools.

However, if sixty percent of the parents or teachers petition for conversion of a school, or if a local education agency initiates conversion of a school to charter school status, the application process and timeline for new charter schools outlined in the law do not apply.

An LEA might, for example, require parent or teacher petitions to be submitted earlier than letters of intent for new charter schools (currently 60 days prior the application deadline). Doing so would allow the LEA time to issue a request for proposals (RFP) for sponsors to apply to run the converted school if it desired to do so.

If the parents or teachers initiate the conversion, the process could be as follows:

  1. Parents or teachers gather required support and
    1. Parents or teachers appoint a charter school sponsor; or
    2. Parents or teachers petition the LEA to convert the school and solicit applications from charter school sponsors. If the LEA agrees to the conversion, the LEA would then solicit applications.
  2. Charter school sponsor or sponsors submit charter school application(s) to the LEA (and copy the department of education), along with evidence of support from 60 percent of the parents or teachers.
  3. The LEA reviews the application according to its timeline and process (which may mirror its timeline and process for new charter school applications).
  4. To approve an application, the local board votes and then signs a charter agreement that includes all components of the application and is binding on the local board (the chartering authority) and the governing body of the charter school. T.C.A. 49-13-110.
  5. The conversion takes place at the beginning of the school year and the charter school governing body operates the school (the charter school may convert all of the grades or convert one or more each year until it operates all grades in the school).

If the LEA initiates the conversion the process would be as follows:

  1. The LEA solicits one or more entities to submit charter school applications. The LEA may use a request for proposals (RFP) process and include specific guidelines for the sponsors to address in their applications.
  2. Each sponsor submits a charter school application to the LEA (and copies the department of education).
  3. The LEA reviews the applications according to its timeline and process (which may mirror its timeline and process for new charter school applications).
  4. To approve an application, the local board votes and then signs a charter agreement that includes all components of the application and is binding on the local board (the chartering authority) and the governing body of the charter school. T.C.A. 49-13-110.
  5. The conversion takes place at the beginning of the school year and the charter school governing body operates the school (the charter school may convert all of the grades or convert one or more each year until it operates all grades in the school).

A sample timeline is below:

Date Action Potential Ongoing Activities
January 1, 2017 Parents or teachers submit petition to LEA LEA verifies petition includes signatures from 60% of parents or teachers.
February 15, 2017 LEA (optional) issues RFP for charter school sponsors to apply to operate the school. LEA and petitioners could collaborate on this RFP. LEA could also discuss other conversion options (magnet, Innovation Zone, e.g.).
April 1, 2017 Applications submitted in response to RFP received by LEA. LEA forms and prepares review team(s). Reviewers interview applicants, and Prepare recommendation to local board.  If recommending approval, charter contract prepared.
July 1, 2017 Local board votes on applications, signs charter agreement.  
Fall 2017 Transition activities LEA informs parents and teachers of conversion to occur in 2014, provides information on school and employment options. Charter school operator recruits students.
Winter 2017-18 Preparation for transition. Parents and teachers at current school apply to transfer to other schools (if desired).
Spring 2018 Enrollment. Charter school conducts enrollment period and lottery.
August 1, 2018 Converted school or grades open. If converting less than the whole school, transition activities would continue until conversion complete. Depending on the LEA's approach, the converted school may remain the school of zone, or become a choice school open to students from a larger geographic area.      

Parents may enroll their children in another public school without penalty.  If the converted school has more applicants and has to conduct a lottery for enrollment, students previously enrolled at the school receive first preference.  The transfer rights of teachers, administrators and other personnel outlined in T.C.A. § 49-13-106 must be protected.  Unless noted otherwise within Tennessee Code, conversion charter schools must comply with the requirements in Title 49, Chapter 13 of state law.

Given this unlikely but possible scenario, it is important that parents or teachers petitioning to convert a school, and the LEA discuss alternative plans throughout the process.  Instead of chartering the school, for example, the LEA might convert it to a magnet school or move the school into an Innovation Zone, allowing for more school level autonomy, regardless of the governance type of the school.