PHOENIX - Some charter schools are going to court to block state education officials from dictating to them exactly when they have to teach certain subjects.
A lawsuit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court charges that state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne and the state Board of Education lack the legal authority to force them to align their teaching schedule with the ones imposed on other public schools.
Attorney Clint Bolick of the Goldwater Institute, who filed the lawsuit for the schools, said they have no problem ensuring that everything required of public-school students is taught to them. But he said that forcing the charter schools to do it a certain way undermines the whole purpose of having this alternative system of public schools.
"This really is a fundamental assault on the concept of charter schools," Bolick said.
Horne said the schools that sued do a good job and, in fact, probably teach more than is required by the state. And he said they remain free to do that as long as they cover what is mandated by the grade designated.
"Charter schools are free to experiment in the way they teach," Horne said. "The only thing that is required is that they must cover the standards."
Charter schools, first allowed under a 1994 state law, are public schools. They get state aid and cannot charge tuition.
They also can't pick and choose their students but must take all applicants up to the limit of their enrollment without discrimination.
But the schools, which provide alternatives to regular public schools, are freed from many of the requirements that govern public schools.
Bolick said about 93,000 students are enrolled in charter schools close to one out of every 10 students in public schools.
According to Bolick, Horne began requiring charter schools to align their instruction in reading, math and science to public schools' standards in 2003. Bolick said his clients, which operate charter schools in Tucson, Phoenix, Chandler and Mesa, were not happy but agreed to comply.
But that changed when the state Board of Education demanded that these schools adjust their seventh- and eighth-grade schedules so they were teaching the same social studies classes as mandated for public schools, meaning U.S. history.
Bolick said the BASIS School in Tucson teaches ancient history through the use of English literature in fifth grade, world history in sixth grade, U.S. history in seventh grade and world history and economics in eighth grade.
The Veritas, Chandler and Mesa preparatory academies, all run by the same firm, teach ancient and medieval history in seventh and eighth grades, with U.S. history the following year.
Bolick said these schools should be allowed to keep their schedules unimpeded by Horne and the state Board of Education.
"When the Legislature created charter schools, they decided that outcome standards were more important than inputs, that diversity was a higher value than homogeneity," he said. And Bolick said the consistently high test scores of the students in these schools prove that point.