Although limitation of new charters, increased accountability, and clearly defined parental rights would go a long way toward resolving our current problems, these changes are not likely to happen any time soon. Our Republican-controlled legislature has refused steadfastly to do anything charter school supporters would be opposed to. However, I predict that the cost of these schools will eventually force these legislators to take notice.
Arizona's economy is going strong now; only a fool would expect it to last forever. We have initiated hundreds of millions of dollars in tax cuts, many of which have been phased in, that eventually will hamper our ability to provide needed services to our citizens. In addition, Arizona has just assumed responsibility for funding all of the capital needs of our schools, including building all new schools and bringing old schools up to building adequacy standards. When we have our next fiscal crisis, we will have no choice but to evaluate the escalating costs of our charter school movement.
Two factors may accelerate the problem. First, standard public school districts may start to charter their existing schools. In exchange for a little bit of paperwork, they could get the extra $600-$700 per student that charter schools now receive. Second, the supreme court may require charter school buildings to meet the same adequacy standards as existing public school buildings, which would require tens of millions more dollars of capital investment by the state.
As it stands now, however, the Arizona charter school movement is heading for a train wreck, and the legislature is asleep at the wheel. Ultimately it is my belief that Arizona's experiment has done more harm than good to the national effort to reform education.
Arizona Daily Star. 1998. Editorial, June 16.
Arizona Republic. 1997. "Valley News in Brief: State Threatening to Shut Down School," January 14.