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Updated Mar 24, 2014 - 7:16 pm

Deal on charter schools holding back budget talks

PHOENIX — A battle over public school districts that convert schools into
charters to get more funding stalled Arizona budget talks for several hours

The state House of Representatives was scheduled to debate the Senate-approved
budget, but legislators instead spent most of the day negotiating several points
of discontent.

Republicans say one of the main issues is a provision in the budget that would
retroactively ban school districts from converting public schools into charter
schools. Charter schools get more funding per student. District charter schools
are also eligible for bonds and overrides, while state charter schools are not.
Overall, they receive more funding than regular public schools and
state-sponsored charter schools.

Some Republicans say school districts take advantage of their ability to
convert regular schools into charters for the sole purpose of getting more
funding. They call it a loophole and say it is necessary to end the practice
because it costs the state too much money. Estimates put that figure at $150
million over the next three years.

Democrats say a last-minute bill introduced by Senate President Andy Biggs,
R-Gilbert, is a political ploy to push the few Republicans who oppose his budget
proposal to vote in favor it.

Biggs introduced Senate Bill 1494 just minutes before the House was scheduled
to begin debate on the budget. The bill would require school districts to
establish an independent board that would run a district charter school and
would ban district charter schools from accessing bonds and overrides.

“This is taking political gamesmanship to a new level,” said Sen. Anna Tovar,

Biggs said public school districts are draining the general fund by constantly
converting their schools into charters.

“The position being, if you want to be a true charter school, then be a true
charter school and act instead of trying to reap all the benefits of property
taxes,” Biggs said.

District charter school proponents say they continually outperform not just
regular public schools but state-sponsored charter schools as well. They say
they use the extra funds judiciously.


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