Bowers: An equal educational opportunity for charter students - East Valley Tribune: Back To School

Back to School Bowers: An equal educational opportunity for charter students

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Rusty Bowers is the director of external affairs for the East Valley Institute of Technology and a former Arizona lawmaker who helped pass legislation in the 1990s to create charter schools.

Posted: Sunday, August 4, 2013 4:35 pm | Updated: 4:50 pm, Sun Aug 4, 2013.

Becca Weinstock heard about the East Valley Institute of Technology from a friend while attending Heritage Academy, a charter middle and high school in Mesa. She had the elective space, was curious, and Heritage supported her decision to enroll in the aviation program at the EVIT East Campus (6625 S. Power Road, Mesa).

Becca “took off,” and thrived in the program. She is now attending ground school classes at Chandler-Gilbert Community College after receiving a scholarship with help from her EVIT teachers, at the same time continuing her high school studies with Heritage.

“EVIT has opened so many opportunities for me outside of school,” she said. “The teachers told me about scholarships like the one with the college and with the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA). They wrote letters of recommendation for me and coached me on interviewing. I can’t say enough about them. I’ll also be attending the worldwide fly-in in Wisconsin later this year with their help.”

Ben Wilson also wanted something more from his high school experience. Taking his required classes at Sequoia charter high school, he also decided to attend EVIT. He excelled in the massage therapy class, student government, and even won the title of “Mr. EVIT.”

Like other charter schools that send students to EVIT, Sequoia recognized Ben’s desires and supported his decision, even though his EVIT attendance actually cost the Sequoia money. Until this past legislative session, a sending charter high school received less funding from the state — in fact, quite a bit less — when sending a student to a joint technological education district like EVIT.

But this year, recognizing this disparity, the Legislature passed and Gov. Brewer signed Senate Bill 1447 into law.

Years ago, property owners in the East Valley, and other areas around the state, chose to impose a small property tax of five cents per thousand dollars to support a quality career and technical education district, separate from the regular school funding seen on their tax bills. With public support, EVIT was built, and has now expanded to two campuses where thousands of students enjoy nearly 40 different technical programs.

Many taxpayers’ children do not attend district public schools, but charter schools instead. Previously, the tax dollars paid by all were given to the charters and EVIT for student attendance at a significantly lower rate. Now, the correction in funding quietly equalizes a great opportunity across the state. Where charter school students like Weinstock were previously capped at 29 percent less than district students when they wanted to attend EVIT or other JTEDs (Joint Technical Education Districts), now that pressure has been removed.

Weinstock’s choice to attend EVIT once cost her charter school around $1,500. Now, public district students, charter school students and home school students and their families can add the East Valley Institute of Technology — with high quality, professional, certificated skills training — to their elective opportunity list, paid for with their property taxes, to help guide their future success.

For them, the sky’s the limit, and for that trust, EVIT is grateful.

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