A handful of charter schools — including three in the East Valley — are going to court to block state education officials from telling them exactly when they have to teach certain subjects.
A lawsuit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court charges that Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne and the state Board of Education lack the legal authority to force them to align their teaching schedules with those imposed on other public schools.
The schools filing the lawsuit — BASIS Tucson, BASIS Scottsdale, Veritas Preparatory Academy in Phoenix, Chandler Preparatory Academy and Mesa Preparatory Academy — include four of the ten highest-performing public schools in the state based on AIMS test scores, according to the Goldwater Institute.
Attorney Clint Bolick of the Goldwater Institute, who filed the lawsuit for the schools, said forcing the charter schools to align their curricula a certain way undermines the whole purpose of having an alternative to public schools.
“This really is a fundamental assault on the concept of charter schools,” Bolick said.
Horne said the charter schools that filed the suit 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 by the grade designated.
“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, are classified as public schools. They get state aid and cannot charge tuition. They must accept all applicants, up to the limit of their enrollment, without discrimination.
Bolick said about 93,000 students are enrolled in charter schools, about one-tenth of the students enrolled in the state’s public schools.
Bolick said Horne began in 2003 to require charter schools to align their instruction to public school standards in the areas of reading, math and science. Bolick said his clients complied.
But all that changed when the state Board of Education demanded that these schools adjust their seventh and eighth grade schedules so they are teaching the same social studies classes as mandated of public schools, meaning U.S. history.
Bolick said the charter schools teach U.S. history, but vary in which grade the subject is taught. For example, BASIS Tucson teaches it in seventh grade, while the Veritas, Chandler and Mesa schools teach it in ninth grade.
Bolick said these schools should be allowed to keep their schedules unimpeded by Horne and the state Board of Education.
“When the Legislature created charter schools, they decided that outcome standards were more important than inputs, that diversity was a higher value than homogeneity,” he said.