A new national report card places Arizona as the top state in the nation for a friendly regulatory environment that encourages charter schools to grow and excel. As a result, Arizona has one of the most robust and diverse charter school systems in the country, according to the report.
For families, that equates into more options to find a school that fits their children’s unique needs, said Jake Logan, president and CEO of the nonprofit Arizona Charter Schools Association.
“This indicates what we already know in Arizona, that we have a really great environment for innovation and for charter schools to flourish,” Logan said. “There’s always tweaks and needed changes and reforms that we can and should discuss, but overall we have a really healthy charter school sector and I think they are serving students very well.”
Arizona ranked number one for its charter school laws in the 2020 report from the nonprofit Center for Education Reform in Washington, D.C., which advocates for school choice.
It was the only state to receive an “A” grade in the report. The study researched and assessed charter school laws in all states, analyzing the impact of state law on charter schools, the robustness of the charter sector, the diversity of schools and charter school policy and regulation.
Atmosphere that encourages innovation and teacher freedom
Arizona received especially high scores for charter authorization, growth, and operational practices that promote school autonomy, freedom to innovate and teacher freedom.
This environment has resulted in the state leading the country when it comes to school choice and different approaches to learning, Logan said.
“It’s really neat to see the different paths the schools take when it comes to customizing the education experience for parents and for students here,” Logan said. “For example, you have schools that focus on the arts, you have schools that focus on agriculture, you have schools that emphasize dual language, schools that emphasize a classical education.
“Being able to have a blend — your academics with something you’re interested in and passionate about — it really is a winning strategy when it comes to kids’ education.”
Arizona pioneer in school choice
Arizona was the second state to allow public and private charter schools more than 25 years ago.
Today, 20 percent of Arizona students are enrolled in charter schools. Many successful concepts were homegrown here including BASIS schools that offer rigorous academics, Great Hearts with a curriculum built on a classical liberal arts education, and the newer and growing Prenda Microschool model where students are taught in groups of 5 to 10 in homes and other locations.
Arizona’s more than 550 public charter schools make up approximately 28 percent of the state’s total schools according to the Arizona Charter Schools Association. More than 213,000 Arizona students are enrolled in charter schools.
Arizona also was a pioneer in open enrollment, where students may apply for admission to any district school depending on available classroom space.
The state also provides even more choices for students through the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program, which is administered by the Arizona Department of Education to provide educational options for qualified Arizona students. By opting out of the public school system, parents can seek a range of alternative educational services, such as private school or home-based education. Students eligible for these services include students living on tribal lands, those with special needs, children of military families and those in failing schools.
Charter schools attractive to business and industry
Logan also believes that school choice has become a great recruiting tool for businesses looking to locate here.
“Education is important for families, and for employees and businesses,” he said. “And having the maximum opportunity to choose between a district school or charter school or other choices is a really paramount to Arizona’s economic development strategy.”To view the Center for Education’s national rankings and scorecard here.