Charter Schools: A National Innovation, an Arizona Revolution
BRYAN C. HASSEL
When Minnesota passed the first charter school law in 1991, even the reform's staunchest advocates could scarcely have predicted the charter idea's rapid spread across the United States. The next year, California joined Minnesota, enacting the nation's second charter statute. Six more states signed on in 1993. By the end of 1998, fully 34 states and the District of Columbia had charter school laws on the books, and state legislatures in several more states were gearing up to consider charter proposals in 1999. As the 1998-1999 school year opened, more than 1,000 charter schools educated over 200,000 students (Center for Education Reform 1998). Though Arizona was not among the first states to enact charter legislation, its charter school program has grown rapidly since the passage of a charter law in 1994. In 1998-1999, nearly a quarter of all the nation's charter schools were in Arizona, which accounts for only 2 percent of the country's overall public school enrollment. Almost 34,000 students attended charter schools in Arizona when school opened for the 1998-1999 school year ( Todd and Mitchell 1998: A6; National Center for Educational Statistics 1998: Table 10).
It is quite common for everyone from politicians to journalists to talk about "charter schools" and "innovation" in the same breath. The association of charter schools with innovation has two sources. First, charter school programs are themselves regarded as an innovative policy. Though they bear a family resemblance to many other proposed reforms of public education, they are undoubtedly "something new" in American educa-