Student success matters most

By the Arizona Charter Schools Association

The Arizona Charter Schools Association issued the following letter to our charter schools on Sept. 22 in response the Grand Canyon Institute’s report on charter school finances and accountability:

The Grand Canyon Institute recently released a paper that attempts to malign charter school accountability. We understand this is the first in a series of three hit pieces designed to discredit the work that charters are doing to deliver strong outcomes for kids. As your Association, we stand for quality and accountability in public charter schools. We do not agree with the baseless conclusions in this document.

Lost in the self-published 90-page diatribe against public charter schools is virtually any mention of what matters most: student success. And that’s no coincidence, as students across all demographics see higher outcomes when enrolled in charter schools. For the last three years, public charter students in all racial and ethnic groups are outperforming their peers, a simple truth that this paper sets out to ignore. Despite the availability of these and other data, including the most recent NAEP results that shine a light on the strong practices of charter schools, the paper’s authors cherry pick numbers from an old 2013 report to support their insinuations.

We know that you are focused on your students and as a condition of your charter contract, are subject to high levels of scrutiny through strong oversight mechanisms. The most straightforward of which is that when a charter holder fails to deliver on their contract with the state, they lose their right to educate our youth. The GCI authors and those who are advancing its conclusions either misrepresent or fail to acknowledge this foundational distinction in charter operation, as well as the following truths:

• Charter school policies and budgets are approved by the school’s governing board in a public meeting.
• Charter holders must comply with the Uniform System of Financial Reporting.
• Charter holders are subject to serious consequences for failure to meet their audit obligations, including but not limited to the withholding of state aid. A late audit results in a 10 percent withholding of funding.
• Charters who receive an exemption from state structured procurement practices, do so by developing and adopting procurement policies and practices that are subject to review during annual independent financial audits. Moreover, to receive this exemption, a charter holder must go before the authorizer and make their case. There is nothing inherently wrong with a “no-bid” contract or buying services on the open market instead of from a list of state sanctioned vendors.
• Management or services contracts are disclosed to the State Board for Charter Schools, typically during the charter application stage. By and large, these agreements are designed to deliver quality services at economies of scale and should not be demonized out of hand.
• Related party transactions should not be vilified by the nature of the parties involved, rather they should be appropriately scrutinized by those with fiduciary responsibility. In the vast majority of cases, this is the charter holder/board of directors.
• Charters must comply with all federal and state laws relating to the education of children with disabilities in the same manner as a school district (ARS 15 -183).
• Charters must admit all students who apply and, if more students apply than there is space available charters, must use an equitable selection process for admissions, such as a lottery.

We will not stand by and let critics defame, defund, and destroy the good work you are doing. We are doubling down on our pledge to provide a quality alternative to the traditional system. Twenty-plus years into the charter law in Arizona, we can say with confidence that growth of quality education in our state is a direct result of your work. While it is difficult to see past the lies and insinuations that this paper and its authors set forth, the charter sector in Arizona has and will stand for making good on educating students in this state.

We remain committed to respectful dialogue on areas for improvement that are aligned with advancing quality public education for our kids. So in the face of the critics, we want to say thank you.