Arizona has a wonderful new tool to lure out-of-
state talent: its public schools.
That is not a typo. Recently when I was recruiting attorneys with
school-age kids from the East Coast, I told them to check out websites for
some of Arizona’s charter schools. The reaction after they did was both
shocked and uniform: You mean I can save tens of thousands in private-school tuition and get a better education for my kids?
Arizona’s K– 12 school system as a whole still lags most states.
Yet in recent years we are producing schools so stratospheric
that other states are eagerly replicating them.
Look at any ranking of the nation’s best public
high schools and you’ll see Arizona disproportionately represented. U.S. News recently
ranked two Arizona charter schools—
BASIS Tucson and BASIS Scottsdale—
among the top five best public high
schools in America. Even more
remarkable, while the other three
schools in the top five have selective
admissions, Arizona charter schools
have open admissions.
Charter schools are the most vibrant
part of Arizona’s K– 12 education marketplace, which includes traditional public
schools, open public school enrollment, tax
credits for private school scholarships, and
education savings accounts. Three in
10 Arizona public schools are
charters, enrolling more than
184,000 children—roughly 17 percent of the state’s public school
Charter schools are public schools operated by private (
usually nonprofit) entities. Because they are not eligible for local funding, charter schools receive about $1,335 less than traditional
public schools for each student. They have significant autonomy
in terms of personnel and curriculum. In exchange, they are
judged by results.
Charter schools typically serve either high- or low-performing
students who are often poorly served in public schools. Many, like
the Arizona School for the Arts, are specialty schools. Although
charter schools as a whole have not outperformed traditional public schools, 21 of the state’s top 30 public schools are charters, as
are eight of the 15 open-enrollment A-graded public schools serving heavily low-income populations. The formula for success:
High-performing charters are replicated, while low-performing
charters are shut down.
Charter schools also exert healthy competition in the public
sector. Several school districts have established innovative schools
or programs modeled after charters. In my own neighborhood, a
THE LAST WORD by Clint Bolick
CLINT BOLICK is vice president for
litigation at the Goldwater Institute. He
serves on the boards of the Arizona
Charter Schools Association, BASIS
Schools Inc., Great Hearts Academies,
and Arizona School Choice Trust.
traditional public middle school, surrounded
by three high-performing charter schools
that use “core knowledge” curriculum,
recently unfurled a banner proclaiming
“Core Knowledge Coming Soon!”
The Arizona Charter Schools
Association designed “value-
added” tests to measure
gains in pupil achievement
that have been adopted by
several school districts. The
association is partnering with
other groups to launch
several new charter schools
in low-income Phoenix
neighborhoods, many of
them led by Teach for
Arizona is not alone
in its success. Washing-
ton, D.C., in which 43
percent of the students
attend charter schools,
is experiencing remarkable
systemwide progress, espe-
cially (but not only) for
charter school students.
Louisiana, which remade
many of its public schools into charters
in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, is improv-
ing as well.
None of this should be a surprise. No
two children are alike. We have the capacity
to create a truly 21st-century educational
system that tailors educational opportunities
to the individual needs and abilities of every
child. Whether we do so will determine in
large measure our nation’s future prosperity.
Arizona lawyers can play an important
role by serving as charter or district school
board members and providing pro bono legal
assistance to help stretch charter school dollars. But most important, we need to fight to
maintain and expand an educational marketplace that promotes innovation and autonomy—all toward the goal of making great
schools accessible to every Arizona student
and one of our leading exports to other
Opinions in the magazine are those of the authors and
not necessarily those of the State Bar of Arizona, its
Board of Governors, the Editorial Board or staff.
The magazine provides an open forum for readers.
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Arizona’s Quiet Education Revolution
Arizona lawyers can
play an important role
by serving as charter or
district school board