Tennessee’s state legislature has passed legislation that would allow six of Memphis’s suburban cities to create their own school districts. Those cities, all in Shelby County, intend to have new school systems up and running by the start of the 2014-15 school year—and in doing so, evade a merger with the Memphis City Schools.
Earlier this year, a judge had ruled that the suburban cities’ efforts to create their own school districts were unconstitutional, though they had already passed referendums and begun creating local school boards. The new bill was written in response to the judge’s ruling, and overrules a 1998 law that prohibited the creation of new school districts in the state.
Memphis’s school system is poorer, lower-performing, and has more minorities than the suburban districts, and those suburban leaders have said they fear the merger will impact the stability of their own districts. But the new law raises concerns about the financial stability of the merged district, which could end up serving only students from the city of Memphis and unincorporated areas of Shelby County.
The suburban cities have been collecting extra sales taxes since 2012 in order to fund the new school systems.
The governor still has not yet signed the bills into law, but has stated his intention to, the Commercial Appeal reports.
Even once it’s signed, legal and civil rights challenges are still a possibility: Some are concerned that the law will result in more-segregated and less equitably funded districts in the state. The law would allow other cities of a certain size to create their own districts and could mean that wealthier suburban cities near other urban centers in Tennessee could also create their own districts.
For some background on previous legal struggles and how this merger came about in the first place, you can read Christina Samuels’ article about the debate over the merger late last spring.
Memphis’s superintendent Kriner Cash announced his resignation in January, and Dorsey Hopson III, the interim superintendent in Memphis City Schools, is set to lead the merged district.
For more interesting reading on Memphis, check out this article on the state-run district that’s in charge of a few schools in the city. The so-called Achievement School District was modeled after the Recovery School District in Louisiana.
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.