Some Things Just Belong in the Past

eileenTwenty years ago, Microsoft released Windows ‘95, “The Rachel” haircut was hugely popular and Clueless sparked the youth fashion trend of tall socks and plaid skirts. Clearly, a lot has changed in the world of pop culture over the last two decades. Similarly outdated are the anti-charter school arguments from Apache Junction Superintendent Chad Wilson in his May 31 column in The Arizona Republic.

Superintendent Wilson’s argument is a baseless, tired one made countless times in the 21 years since Arizona introduced charter schools. It also fosters an unproductive debate when it comes to meeting the true needs of Arizona schools, student and families today. In a nutshell, I’ll simply say this: Arizona charter schools are tuition-free and open to all. Our schools serve nearly 160,000 students from every ethnic and socio-economic category and with a multitude of needs, including special education.

Simply put, charter-school teachers and administrators are making minor miracles every day in this state and opening doors to a better future for countless Arizona children. We will never apologize for that, nor stand silent in the face of unwarranted, inaccurate allegations.

But I believe just as strongly that K-12 infighting, as exemplified in the Op-Ed by Superintendent Wilson, distracts from our larger classroom mission and unnecessarily divides public educators at the exact time when unity is essential. In today’s climate of tight State budgets, it is more critical than ever for teachers, administrators and families to speak with a consistent voice about the need for stable, dependable State support to benefit ALL students.

The real questions in Arizona public education today involve how we will best utilize scarce resources in order to provide a quality education for EVERY student; the most effective ways to replicate successful, innovative schools; and the fastest means to develop these schools in the neighborhoods where they are needed most.

Arizona charter schools are making great progress in addressing these issues.

To cite just one example, New Schools For Phoenix is taking on the challenging of improving education for students in the urban core of our nation’s sixth-largest city. Currently, only one out of every six schools in the Phoenix inner city is A-rated. New Schools For Phoenix is training leaders to open, replicate or reform our public schools – district or charter – providing a path out of poverty for students. By Fall, this initiative will have 12 public schools delivering the best in public education to students who have – until now – had few good options.

There are other reasons for optimism. The Arizona Charter Schools Association is continuing talks with key State leaders to reverse or mitigate cuts to the small school weight. We remain hopeful for a solution in the near future.

Meanwhile, Governor Ducey this week announced his plans for a ballot referral that would deliver nearly $3 billion in new money to K-12 education over 10 years. Together with revenue from a possible settlement of the Prop 301 lawsuit, there is potential for a real influx of much-needed funding for Arizona public schools, both charter and district.

Together, let’s focus on the best path forward for Arizona’s 1.1 million public school students. And let’s remember that – as with Windows ’95 and The Rachel and anti-choice arguments against charter schools – some things just belong in the past.

Eileen B. Sigmund is the President and CEO of the Arizona Charter Schools Association

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