Arizona has been a leader in school choice, pushed in that direction by legislators who believe in the concept. The state allowed charter schools beginning in 1994 with a goal of improving student achievement. Now, Arizona has 602 charter schools with about 184,000 students.
As recipients of state money paid per student, the charters cannot charge tuition and are subject to state standards.
This week, the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools cracked down on three charters that have gotten failing grades. The three, in Show Low, Glendale and Ganado on the Navajo Nation, are expected to close by the end of the school year. Of 12 public schools getting failing grades in the 2012-13 year, five were charters, and two of those have closed already, in Mesa and Tucson.
Under a system beginning in 2011, schools, whether charter or otherwise, receive an F grade after three consecutive years of poor performance on standardized tests. Following Monday’s notice of revocation, the schools had to notify staff and students’ families before having an opportunity to appeal.
The state Department of Education cannot close traditional district schools — only local school boards can do that.
Eileen Sigmund, president and CEO of a support group, the Arizona Charter Schools Association, was straightforward in addressing the issue of failing schools. “Every F-rated school that’s a charter is not a viable option anymore,” she told The Arizona Republic. “We’re not out there protecting members. We are really out there to make sure students have high-quality options.”
That gets to the reason charters were approved in the first place. They are supposed to be innovative and provide a choice, especially when parents feel their neighborhood school is not up to par.
Along with the status that Arizona provides to charter schools comes a big responsibility. They need to be accountable and live by the same rules controlling traditional district schools.