Most leaders engaged in the work of improving education in Arizona are focused on how we can replicate the success of our highest performing district and charter schools to reach even more students.
Some outfits, though, like the Grand Canyon Institute (GCI), seem committed to ignoring great outcomes for students and instead engage in one-sided “analysis” and political attacks against one sector of our public schools – charter schools.
These attacks are harmful to Arizona students and their families – especially those whose access to a quality education depends on school choice.
A new report from GCI ignores the reality of educational achievement in falsely proclaiming that charter schools – a successful, regulated public-school model – are “abusing” taxpayer funds based on how they choose to spend their allotted dollars. These so-called abuses are mischaracterized by a group with an anti-charter agenda that simply doesn’t like that private-sector innovation created conditions that have improved schooling and schooling options across the state. Sadly, for these opponents, educational outcomes take a backseat to an outdated view of education.
GCI populates its report more with snarky commentary than real research. The most disappointing piece of the manifesto is that GCI misrepresents the stunning success charter schools, and Arizona schools in general, are experiencing because of choice and the positive changes the charter movement brought to our neighborhood schools. The report misses the point entirely of what we ought to strive for in education: educational excellence for every student.
Don’t buy into GCI’s charge that charter schools are not held to a high level of accountability. They are. Charter schools are subject to government oversight and ultimate accountability to the taxpayer. Oversight authority for charter operators rests with the State Board for Charter Schools, which ensures financial and operational compliance with state laws and authorizing documents. Charters also follow financial reporting guidelines established by the Arizona Auditor General and the Department of Education. The Charter Board is serious about its responsibility and has closed down schools in years past for non-compliance or poor performance.
Ultimately, the truest measure of whether taxpayer dollars are put to their best use is whether they are achieving their intended results. A variety of measures, include the latest AzMerit scores as well as the Nation’s Report Card, show that charter students are leading our state to significant achievement gains, besting their peers across the across country and putting us on par with students in high-scoring Massachusetts.
Schools teaching these students are achieving this success within the framework of the law and their state-approved charters, and they’re usually doing it with fewer resources, since charters don’t have the same access to tax dollars as traditional district schools. While we support excelling district schools just as passionately, we point these achievements out here in response to this biased report.
GCI seems intent on singling out fewer than a dozen charters from the more than 400 approved and legally operating charter schools under state oversight. This includes some of the highest performing schools not just in the state, but in the country. These educational systems are points of pride for our state, not targets to take down.
I am heavily invested in Arizona’s school system as the father of three girls attending public schools, and as the head of a business organization that sees education as a critical element of our state’s economic success. The Arizona Chamber will defend high performing schools of all stripes against unwarranted attacks and remain non-denominational when it comes to traditional district, charter, magnet, private, or otherwise. Our focus is on giving all kids access to those schools that are driving exceptional outcomes for Arizona students. It’s what our kids deserve, and it’s what we should all be working together to provide.
National eyes are on Arizona. Not because of school choice opponents’ baseless claims, but because of rising student achievement. Now there’s a story worth reporting.
Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry