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Arizona’s approach to charter schools ranked among top in US

PHOENIX — Arizona ranked fifth in the nation on a national list comparing state charter school policies.

The list, compiled by the Center for Education Reform, gave just five states that allow charter schools, including Arizona, an “A” rating for their flexibility and accessibility to create and maintain the schools.

To pass CER’s ranking, each state’s system had to meet four requirements. If it did, it was given a point value, which was used to assign the letter grades:

The state must allow groups other than traditional school boards to create and manage charter schools

In Arizona, the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools oversees the charter system. Other eligible authorizers in the state are public universities and community colleges with at least 15,000 students.

“That one entity [ASBCS] is really authorizing schools,” CER President Kara Kerwin said.

Of the 15 points possible in this category, Arizona received 10.

Does the state cap the number of charter schools?

Arizona has no caps in place for charter schools. There are more than 623 charters open or opening in Arizona, giving it the third-largest student enrollment behind only California and Texas.

“Arizona really has led the way in terms of allowing children access to great opportunities,” Kerwin said.

In this category, Arizona received a perfect score of 10 points.

Charter schools must be free to operate as they deem fit

In looking at state, district and teacher autonomy, CER found Arizona to be relatively restriction-free.

Charter schools in Arizona receive a blanket waiver from most rules and regulations that govern traditional schools. Arizona law states charters are autonomous — fiscally and legally — and do not have to follow traditional district rules. The same freedom is given for contracting teachers.

In this category, Arizona received 12 out of 15 points.

Charters should receive similar funding to traditional schools

Arizona law calculates a base support level for charter schools and gives them equal access to all categories, include federal and state funding. However, there are some disparities, especially in facility and federal funding, CER found.

“In terms of equitable funding, still not great, but Arizona is better than other states,” Kerwin said. “I think if you were a charter operator in Arizona you would say the funding is less than equal.”

When it comes to funding for facilities, Arizona provides roughly $1,707 per students in K-8 and nearly $2,000 per student in grades 9-12.

In this category, Arizona received 8 out of 15 points.

CER compared 42 states and Washington, D.C. Eight states do not allow charter schools.