Tennessee’s state legislature has passed two bills that would allow six of Memphis’ suburban cities to create their own districts. Those cities, all in Shelby County, intend to have new systems up and running by the start of the 2014-15 school year—and in doing so, evade a merger with the Memphis district.
Earlier this year, a judge had ruled that the suburban cities’ efforts to create their own districts were unconstitutional, though they had already passed referendums and begun creating local school boards. The new bills were written in response to the judge’s ruling and override laws that prohibited the creation of new school districts in the state and limited the number of districts per county. The changes mean that suburban cities near other urban centers in Tennessee could also create their own districts.
Suburban leaders have said they fear the merger will affect the stability of their own school systems. 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 in order to fund the new school systems.
As of press time, Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, had not yet signed the bills into law, but has stated his intention to. Legal and civil rights challenges are still a possibility: Lawmakers who oppose the measure expressed concerns that it will result in more-segregated and less equitably funded districts.
A version of this article appeared in the April 24, 2013 edition of Education Week as Memphis Suburbs Moving Closer to Avoiding Merger