Charter Schools Spark Controversy in Arizona, D.C

Church & State, February 1997 | Go to article overview

Charter Schools Spark Controversy in Arizona, D.C


Problems are beginning to surface with the charter school concept, as evidenced by recent controversies in Arizona and Washington, D.C.

Charter schools are publicly funded but privately run institutions that supporters say will free education from bureaucracy and red tape and foster local control and involvement in schools. The concept is growing in popularity across the country.

But the idea is not without its flaws. Last November The Arizona Republic reported that Heritage Academy, a Mesa charter school, was apparently including the religious doctrine of creationism as part of its science curriculum.

The church-state violation came to light after Norm McCue, a humanist activist, learned of the school's practice while monitoring a meeting of the creationism Arizona Origin Science Association. He overheard a woman talking about the school.

"She was saying that people knew it was illegal and that as long as nobody found out about it, it would he OK," McCue told the Republic.

When the newspaper called the headmaster of Heritage Academy, he admitted that the charter school taught creationism on an equal footing with evolution. In subsequent discussions, however, he reportedly backed off and said the subject is discussed only if students raise it. Later, he said the school doesn't teach either creationism or evolution.

The Mesa incident isn't the only charter school problem in the state. The Arizona School Board revoked the charter of a Phoenix school called Citizen 2000 after concluding that the institution had claimed a higher enrollment than it actually had to get an additional $250,000 in state aid.

About 70 Citizen 2000 students were forced back into the public schools. Many of them were dismayed to learn that their academic credits would not transfer, and some students had to repeat entire semesters.

Questions have also been raised about the ability of charter school students to get into colleges. Because the program is new, only a few charter-school students have graduated in Arizona to date. One administrator called the higher education issue "another sticky wicket to deal with."

Arizona education officials have had to reject some charter school applications. Last year three "schools" that are in reality home-schooling support networks applied for charters. …

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