Top-performing charter schools in Scottsdale, Chandler and elsewhere are going to court to block state education officials from dictating to them exactly when they have to teach certain subjects.
A lawsuit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court charges that state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne and the state Board of Education lack the authority to force them to align their teaching schedules with the ones imposed on other public schools.
Attorney Clint Bolick of the Goldwater Institute filed the lawsuit for the schools, which produce some of the top test scores in the state. His clients include BASIS Scottsdale and BASIS Tucson charter schools and Chandler, Mesa and Veritas preparatory academies.
Bolick said these schools have no problem teaching everything the state wants public school students to know. But he said forcing the charter schools to do it a certain way undermines the whole purpose of having an alternative system of public schools.
“This really is a fundamental assault on the concept of charter schools,’’ Bolick said.
Horne said the schools that sued do a good job and probably teach more than is required by the state.
He said they remain free to do that as long as they cover what is mandated at each grade level.
“Charter schools are free to experiment in the way they teach,” Horne said. “The only thing that is required is that they must cover the standards.”
Charter schools, first allowed under a 1994 state law, get state aid and cannot charge tuition.
According to Bolick, Horne began requiring charter schools to align their instruction in reading, math and science to district school standards in 2003. Bolick said his clients were not happy but agreed to comply.
But all that changed when the state Board of Education demanded that these schools adjust their seventh- and eighth-grade schedules so they teach the same social studies classes as mandated for district schools, meaning U.S. history at that level.
Bolick said the BASIS campuses in Scottsdale and Tucson teach ancient history through English literature in fifth grade, world history in sixth grade, U.S. history in seventh grade and world history and economics in eighth grade.
The Veritas, Chandler and Mesa preparatory academies, all run by Great Hearts Academies, teach ancient and medieval history in seventh and eighth grades, with U.S. history taught the following year.
“When the Legislature created charter schools, they decided that outcome standards were more important than inputs, that diversity was a higher value than homogeneity,” Bolick said.