In This Business-Friendly State, Why Is It So Hard To Start A Private School?

Entrepreneurship is challenging in any sector, but education entrepreneurs often confront regulatory roadblocks and bureaucratic barriers that make launching a new school or innovative learning model particularly difficult.

Some of these roadblocks and barriers include occupational licensing requirements for new school founders, such as those in Nevada that prevent any non-state-licensed teacher or administrator from opening a secular private school. They can also include state accreditation requirements, like those in Iowa, that can prevent some schools, especially learner-centered ones, from operating.

These regulations can constrain the supply of new and creative schools, artificially limiting the education options available to families. This is particularly problematic now, as more states introduce or expand school choice programs that enable families dissatisfied with their assigned district school to exit and find an alternative. If existing or new regulations prevent those alternatives from sprouting, then the sustained success of school choice could be stymied.

Along with Nevada and Iowa, Tennessee is another state where it can be difficult to start a private school due to various accreditation and approval requirements. These regulations recently got even tighter.

Last year, the Tennessee Department of Education revised its rules for non-public school approval. Among the revisions were delineated seat time requirements of 6.5 hours a day, 180 days a year that can prevent flexible and creative scheduling. Additional annual assessment and state reporting protocols were added, and schools with fewer than 10 students were prohibited from getting started. These rules go into effect this academic year and can impact emerging schools like The Lab School of Memphis.

Launched in August 2021 by former public school teacher, Coi Morrison, The Lab School of Memphis is a small, regionally-accredited, secular K-6 private school that emphasizes project-based, learner-driven education in a nurturing environment with no grades or state testing. It was honored as a 2022 national semi-finalist for the prestigious Yass Prize for education innovation, as well as a VELA Education Fund “Next Step” grant recipient.

“I see these regulations as particularly threatening to new and would-be education entrepreneurs,” said Morrison, who also has an MBA. “Increased regulations for nonpublic schools threaten models like ours as they shift the focus to compliance for the sake of checking boxes, versus focusing on encouraging, embracing, and learning from new models

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