February 26, 2019

Improving Transparency in Charter Schools

Charter school transparency has been a topic of debate over the last year, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers have worked together to propose upgrades to Arizona’s charter school laws.

Senate Bill 1394, also called the Charter School Transparency and Accountability Act, was introduced by Senator Kate Brophy McGee, with the support of 11 co-sponsors, both republicans and democrats.

Charter schools are public schools funded by the state and operated through a contract between a charter holder and a sponsor such as the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools.

Senator Kate Brophy McGee’s bipartisan legislation would accomplish the biggest reform to Arizona’s public charter schools since they were signed into law by Governor Fife Symington in 1994.

The bill makes changes in several key areas, including:

Governance

  • Requires a charter governing body to have at least three members.
  • Prohibits more than two immediate family members from serving simultaneously on the same governing body and prohibits immediate family members from being a majority of members on a governing body.
  • Requires charter board members to be trained in open meeting law; public records requirements; enrollment laws and regulations; applicable procurement rules; and student discipline.

Procurement

  • All charter schools must adopt and comply with procurement policies that include:
  • All purchases must be in the charter’s best interest.
  • A record of all purchase descriptions.
  • Standard accounting principals.
  • A prohibition of purchasing goods to services from family or governing board members.  
  • Allows legal action to be requested by the authorizer should a charter not follow the procurement laws.

Reporting Requirements

  • Requires a sponsor to annually compile information pertaining to the governance and operations of each charter school it sponsors.
  • Requires a sponsor to post to a public website, for each charter school it sponsors, all governing board members and annual state revenues and a description of the services and payment if a charter contracts with a Charter Management Organization.
  • Requires each charter school website to include a link to the information compiled on the sponsor’s website.

Admissions

  • Prohibits a charter school from limiting admission based on ability to financially contribute to the school, or on agreement to volunteer for or at the school.

In addition to these new proposed requirements, public charter schools are already subject to open meeting and public record laws, annual audits, oversight by state and federal agencies. Additionally, they are reviewed every five years and can be closed at any time for failure to improve student achievement.

Over the last 25 years, Arizona’s public charter schools have made great gains in student achievement and have risen to become some of the top schools in the country.

This legislation implements new and necessary accountability standards for Arizona charter schools, while avoiding a heavy-handed approach that would bind these public schools in red tape or lose the magic that has made charter schools so effective in the first place.

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