Contact: Lucy Caldwell
Less than 20 years after the opening of the state’s first public charter school, nearly 10 percent of Arizona’s high school seniors will graduate from charter schools this spring—and some experts estimate charter school enrollment could double by 2020.
In a new report released Wednesday, Goldwater Institute education director Jonathan Butcher documents the successes of charter schools in Arizona. The report recommends several key reforms to ensure that charter schools can continue to flourish over the next 20 years, including safeguarding against government red tape and ensuring they have access to underused traditional school facilities.
“Arizona charter schools headline the list of Arizona’s best public schools,” said Butcher. “What was once considered a radical education model is now not only mainstream, with support from national figures like President Obama, it’s a leading alternative to traditional public schools.”
Across the state, charter schools provide much-needed alternatives to low-performing traditional public schools. When compared with their peers in traditional schools, both low-income and mainstream Arizona charter school students outperformed their traditional public school peers on a 2011 national education assessment. In Phoenix, for example, charter school Phoenix Collegiate Academy is consistently rated as an “A”-school by the Department of Education despite being located in the epicenter of the Roosevelt District, where five of the 17 traditional public schools are rated as “failing” and only 2 of the remaining 12 managed to earn even a “B” rating.
Unfortunately, charter schools like Phoenix Collegiate Academy cannot always keep up with demand for seats, resulting in waiting lists for families looking for better schools. Arizona charter schools must pay for their own facilities when opening a school, and many would like to use empty traditional public school buildings when they are looking to open or expand. Yet there is no established process for charter schools hoping to use empty school buildings, and in some parts of the state, school district officials are openly hostile to the idea. In Tucson, school district officials have expressly opposed allowing charter schools to use their empty buildings, with one official even stating, “My goal is to put charter schools out of business.”
Butcher recommends that closed public schools be sold or leased to the highest bidder within 18 months of closure, enabling charter schools to open and grow while also curbing financial losses school districts carry when they hold on to vacant buildings. In Indiana, charter schools can lease vacant school buildings from districts for $1 annually.
“With over 100 public school buildings across Arizona sitting empty, this should be a no-brainer,” said Butcher.
Butcher warns that lawmakers must also be steadfast to make sure government red tape doesn’t keep charter schools from opening and innovating. Just like regular public schools, charter schools must be held accountable for their finances and student achievement, but a recent rise in federal and state regulations is preventing some charter schools from being the unique alternatives to traditional schools they were designed to be. According to Butcher, charter schools are successful because they are not forced to follow many of the same rules that hamper administrators and teachers at traditional public schools. The report suggests that charters be allowed to identify regulations that are holding back progress and request exemptions from them.
To read the report, please visit http://goldwaterinstitute.org/article/arizona-charter-schools-vision-nex...
To schedule an interview with Goldwater Institute Education Director Jonathan Butcher, please contact Communications Director Lucy Caldwell at (602) 633-8986 or firstname.lastname@example.org.