NAACP urges Knox County school board to reject all-boys charter school
The Knoxville NAACP is urging Knox County school board members to reject a proposed charter school, saying it could hurt students who attend some of the district's "most challenged public schools."
"Knox Prep would do more harm than good for students, neighborhoods, and the district itself," the NAACP wrote in its letter to school board, saying Vine and Whittle Springs middle schools could be harmed if the new school pulls away students.
Knox Prep School administrators said in their application and at meetings that the school is designed for students of color, especially those from economically disadvantaged families. It is only for boys.
NAACP leaders say they're especially worried about Vine and Whittle Springs, which enroll a majority of students of color. At Vine, 70 percent of 447 students are Black. At Whittle Springs, 30 percent of 455 students are Black, according to data from the Tennessee Department of Education.
Knox Prep, according to its application, also hopes to serve students who would go to Bearden, Gresham and Northwest middle schools, which each have at least 20 percent Black students.
In Tennessee, charter schools are paid for with taxpayer dollars but operate independently.
Knox Prep is proposed by the leaders of Chattanooga Prep, a charter school in Hamilton County. If approved, the school will be the first all-boys public school in Knox County. It will also be the county's first charter school to serve middle and high school students.
Opponents say giving tax money to charter schools hurts the remaining public schools because charters pull funding away from traditional schools even as their operational costs remain the same. Under state law, a certain amount of taxpayer money designated for public schools goes with a student who enrolls in a charter.
Additionally, the Knoxville NAACP points out that because charters recruit and enroll higher academically achieving students, it would be essentially "hoarding" families that have the most time to put into parental engagement with their child's school.
Brad Scott, CEO of Prep Schools, told Knox News the school will accept all students who apply up to its limit of 105 sixth graders. If more students apply, the school will hold a lottery as required by state law.
The school plans to open to sixth graders in 2024 and expand to other grades in the following years.
State Rep. Sam McKenzie, whose district includes Knoxville's east side and downtown, told Knox News that Prep Schools is being disingenuous about what students it plans to attract.
"While Knox Prep claims to pull students from the entire county, history shows us that the majority of students will be pulled from inner city communities," he said in a statement. "This demographic is who they are actively recruiting from – not rural or suburban communities."
NAACP leaders say opening a charter school could lead to the closure of a public middle schools.
The group also wrote a letter to the leaders of Chattanooga Prep asking them to withdraw their application and inviting them to hear directly from the community.
Knox Prep had applied for its charter last month and received a recommendation from the district charter review board committee. If approved, the school will be located in the current Boys & Girls Clubs of Tennessee Valley site at 967 Irwin St.
The school could become the district's second charter school after Emerald Academy, which opened in 2015.
Areena Arora is a Knox News data investigative reporter and covers education. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter @AreenaArora.
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: NAACP urges Knox County school board to reject all-boys charter school