Education
6:00 am
Thu June 5, 2014

Knox Charter School Application Approved

Opponents of a proposed charter school listen to State Rep. Gloria Johnson speak at a rally on Market Square, June 4, 2014.
Credit Gerald Witt/Knoxville News Sentinel

By the fall of 2015, Knox County's first charter school could open its doors to students. That's the Emerald Youth Foundation's plan, after receiving approval from the Knox County Board of Education to move ahead with the school.

School board members voted 7-1 Wednesday night to approve Emerald's charter application. Superintendent Jim McIntyre recommended the board sign off on the proposal last week. Emerald's application was just the second to receive the school system's blessing. The first failed to raise enough money to open.

Emerald's proposed charter school would serve students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Emerald Youth Foundation is a Christian group, but charter schools are required to be secular. So EYS established a non-profit group, Emerald Charter Schools, to shepherd the proposal and operate the school. Emerald Youth executive director Steve Diggs said the school is designed to narrow an achievement gap between students in urban and suburban districts.

"When you take an honest look where our kids are in our urban communities the gap is very pronounced. We have to accelerate the pace of achievement," Diggs told WBIR television in January.

But many of the people who spoke out against Emerald's plan at Wednesday night's board meeting said the charter school could undermine surrounding public schools. Charters are publicly funded, with the money being assigned according to the number of students who leave their previous schools and attend the charter.

That was a chief concern among those who spoke out in opposition to the charter application Wednesday night. Before the meeting, about fifty people attended an anti-charter rally in Market Square. State Representative Gloria Johnson, a special education teacher and charter opponent, spoke at the event.