Should this university become its own K12 school district? Regional leaders are split

While creating a new school district that expands UofM's guidance would help improve the outcomes of the students who enroll, detractors are concerned that it could hurt nearby school districts.

Two Tennessee state lawmakers want the University of Memphis to become its own school district, seeing that it already houses a high-performing elementary, middle and high school on its campus. While proponents of the bill believe the integration could help the university and the district create academic tracks that better reflect local workforce needs, others are concerned about it might cripple an already struggling urban district.

Rep. Mark White and Sen. Brent Taylor want Campus School, University Middle School and University High School to form their own school district, unrestrained from Memphis-Shelby County School District enrollment caps and budget allocations. Known for their academic quality and track record of generating successful student outcomes, the three university schools represent the cream of the crop of one of Tennessee’s lower-performing districts.

Through the Innovative School District Act, White hopes the three schools could implement stronger K12 teaching and learning methods and remove oversight from Memphis-Shelby County’s elected school board members, Chalkbeat reports. In their place would be the university’s Board of Trustees, who’d have greater influence as a school board. Additionally, the university’s campus schools are currently not allowed to enroll more than 1,050 students, which has created a long waitlist.

Detractors are concerned that the proposal would hurt nearby school districts. The Memphis-Shelby County School district has been lobbying to upgrade its aging schools, and a new district would compete for funds, Chalkbeat reports. This is especially concerning considering that nearly two-thirds (64%) of Memphis-Shelby County’s students are Black, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. On the other hand, only 24% of the university’s elementary school are Black.

“We are seriously considering redirecting the money out of these public schools that are already vulnerable,” local activist Richard Massey said to Fox 13.

Additionally, skeptics are concerned giving the public university’s board control over the the new district would be the equivalent of a state takeover. Brookings has found that state takeovers do not improve students’ academic performance and can potentially hurt Black student outcomes. One recent takeover in Tennessee has been deemed a failure by lawmakers, the Commercial Appeal reports.

However, university officials assure the community this would not be the case.

“We are not interested in opening a school next to an existing school and trying to put anyone out of business,” Sally Parish, the university official who oversees its K12 school programming, said to lawmakers last week during a Senate Education Committee hearing, according to Chalkbeat.

Instead, the university is purely seeking to match the community’s evolving needs, she added.

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Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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