Fri, April 03

Let's get this straight: charter schools are public schools

In response to Mr. Gerhardt's open letter to Mr. Renzi, it is obvious both gentlemen need to be better informed on charter schools in Arizona. First and foremost, charter schools are public schools.

I am attaching a fact sheet created by the Arizona Charter Schools Association from numbers provided by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. These numbers are for 2001, and I am awaiting JBLC's 2002 numbers so that I may update this sheet.

What the fact sheet shows is that on average, district school students are funded at roughly $1,800 more per year than charter school students. The difference is mainly in the capital finance area. Charter schools receive no Student's First money. All facilities and equipment are paid for from the total state assistance amount that is approximately 75 percent of district student funding.

Charter schools are funded entirely from the general fund, while district students are funded through the combination of local property tax revenues and a state equalization formula.

School districts no longer bond for facilities, but are funded through the state's general fund Schools Facilities Board.

Charter schools also do not receive additional monies for transportation funding, teacher experience index, soft capital, excess utilities assistance, nor have the ability to bond or receive override monies. Unlike district schools that are funded on previous year counts, charter schools are paid on current year funding and payments are adjusted monthly based upon the number of students in attendance.

Arizona's charter school law permits uncertified teachers to teach in charter schools. In a survey taken two years ago, 75 percent of all charter school teachers were Arizona certified teachers. The majority of the other 25 percent were specialty teachers teaching in technology or the arts. As we all know, certification does not guarantee quality.

A percentage of district school classroom and special ed teachers are operating on emergency certification (non-certified or teaching outside subject matter expertise) due to the shortage of certified teachers in this state.

All charter school teachers must be fingerprinted and have the same background checks as district teachers.

Incidents of improper behavior unfortunately occur in both charters and districts by both certified and uncertified staff. Charter school teachers salaries average less than district teachers.

All charter schools in Arizona are required to provide special education services to any student who presents themselves at their door. Charter schools are open to any student who wishes to attend, and only when capacity is reached, waiting lists or lotteries are used for admission.

Charter schools must follow all federal laws pertaining to non-discrimination based on race, color, creed, national origin and religion. Charter schools are required to be non-sectarian.

There are over 450 charter schools in Arizona, educating about 70,000 students. Charter schools are required to submit annual budgets, annual financial reports, and an annual compliance audit. Charter schools are required to administer both the Stanford 9's and AIMS tests. Charter schools that are not meeting their contractual obligations to the state are subject to revocation of their charter. Charter schools offer the choice to students and parents for learning, the ultimate exercise of parent support. Teachers chose to teach in a charter school.

Should you desire further information on the charter school industry in Arizona, please do not hesitate to contact the Arizona Charter Schools Association.

Margaret Roush-Meier, M. Ed. is the executive director of the Arizona Charter Schools Association

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