Last year, the Metro Nashville school board rejected Great Hearts Academy four times because it insisted on locating its charter school in the city’s most affluent neighborhood, with no plans for diversity. The rejection was entirely appropriate inasmuch as the new charter would be the equivalent of a publicly-funded private school for affluent white students.

In Arizona, Great Hearts was known for high test scores, but also for expecting parents to contribute $1,200-1,500 annually to defray school costs and keep classes small. For parents thinking of private schools, that’s a bargain, but it’s not public education. Last year, Great Hearts acquired a certain notoriety when the Arizona Republic wrote about how the school directed $1 million in textbook purchases to a board member, who gave generously to the school.

The Arizona Republic wrote:

“The 15 schools under the non-profit Great Hearts Academies offer a college-preparatory curriculum that stresses classic literature. That means students get an intensive reading regimen.

“To supply the books, the schools have been making regular purchases for at least the last three years from a Tempe-based textbook company called Educational Sales Co. Daniel Sauer, the company’s president and CEO and a shareholder, is also an unpaid officer of the Great Hearts Academies non-profit.

“Since July 2009, the schools have made $987,995 in purchases from the company.

“Great Hearts also gives parents the option of buying books directly from the company. Six of the Great Hearts school websites feature links only to Educational Sales’ website for parents who want to buy a second set of books for use at home.

“Great Hearts CEO Dan Scoggin said he doesn’t believe there is a conflict of interest because Great Hearts has no mandates on where its schools buy books. Many Great Hearts schools use several vendors based on pricing, service and availability, he said.

“Great Hearts schools are exempt from state purchasing laws.”

State Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman (Michelle Rhee’s -ex, whose sole previous education experience was TFA) was furious that Metro Nashville turned down Great Hearts. He withheld $3.4 million in state funds owed to the children of Nashville to punish the board for defying him.

Why such fierce devotion to this particular charter operator when there are so many other charter chains? It is a puzzlement.

Then House Speaker Beth Harwell (R) expressed her displeasure by introducing ALEC legislation to create a state charter commission to authorize charter schools at will, without regard to the wishes of elected local school boards. This made other Republican legislators uncomfortable, some because they remembered that local control is (or used to be) a conservative idea, others because they worried that charters for inner-city kids might open in their own neighborhood.

So the legislators dropped Harwell’s ALEC proposal and shifted to a bill saying that the state board of education should have the power to override local school board decisions.

That way they can protect their own neighborhood schools from those “poor kids trapped in failing schools,” while making it possible for the state board to open publicly financed private schools in white neighborhoods.

The bill seems sure to sail through the legislature. Great Hearts will get its charter, maybe several charters, and local control in Tennessee will be eviscerated in the service of corporate chain schools.