FOX13 Investigates: Charter Schools - Too Many, Too Fast?

Memphis, TN — Charter schools are gobbling up students and money from the Shelby County School system and could one day dominate the educational landscape in the former Memphis City Schools system.

For the 2016/2017 school year, charter school students account for nearly 12% of Shelby County School students.

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The 13,400 charter student count is the most the district has ever had, and more charter schools have been approved for the upcoming school year, according to the 2017 Shelby County Charter Schools Annual Report released in January.

The explosive growth doesn't come cheap.  In the 2013/2014 school year, SCS shelled out $66,987,992 for charter school operations.

For the current school year, SCS earmarked $112,806,255 in its' budget for the operation of charter schools.

While charters are experiencing explosive growth, SCS administrators say parents should not conflate a rise in charters to a rise in performance.

"Just because you're a charter doesn't mean you're necessarily out-performing," said Brad Leon, Chief Strategy and Performance Management at Shelby County Schools.

"In the K-8 sector, they (charter schools) are under performing.”

Despite some charters underperforming, the growth rate is soaring, and because state law does not limit the number of charters in a district, it's conceivable that SCS could be a "charter only" school system one day.

Already, the district is predicting 50% of SCS students will be in charter schools by 2037.

"Change always brings with it lots of difficulties so it's hard to predict exactly what those difficulties will be but it will be a different kind of system," said Leon.

When the 2017/2018 school year starts, SCS will have fifth charter schools, and that's not counting the schools in the Achievement School District where the state has taken over schools in Memphis and assigned charter groups to run them.

One of the new schools will be the Kaleidoscope School of Memphis, which will use an "arts integration" approach to teaching 6th through 8th graders.

Veteran educators Alice Henry and James Alexander are partnering in the charter and hope to have 125 students in the inaugural year.

"We expect to have high performing students that are ready for high school ready for high schools of choice and beyond, " said Henry.

"We understand that the City of Memphis needs schools that are committed one hundred percent to producing high quality students that are competitive nationally."

Alexander, who has been an assistant principal, principal and administrator in another Memphis charter school, MAHS High School, has been scrambling to find a physical facility for Kaleidoscope.

"We are hoping to have a facility downtown, with close proximity to the arts district," said Alexander.

"We are close to securing a facility and expect to have a deal done by the end of March," asserted Alexander.

If current trends and projects hold and 50% of SCS students are being educated in charter schools, by 2037, the school district will fork over half of its' $1 billion budget to run charters.  Roughly, $500,000,000.