On a blog maintained by the Network for Public Education, a blogger recently attacked BASIS.ed and BASIS Charter Schools with a series of falsehoods and innuendo. Ordinarily, we would not dignify such errors with a response, but as the Arizona Capitol Times was going to publish it, and offered us a response, we felt compelled to do so, with facts.
Next year, our network of BASIS Curriculum Schools will number more than thirty, serving more than 20,000 students, most of whom receive a world-class education for free, with no admission criteria or entry requirements. BASIS schools are considered by many to be among America’s highest performing schools. We are immensely proud of our students, and of our faculty who foster their success. We owe it to these deserving people and their families to correct the record. To do so, we are focusing on the “Five Biggest Falsehoods” from the blog post:
False Claim #1
We ‘cherry-pick’ students
There is “cherry picking” at BASIS Charter Schools, though not the type the blogger alleges. Our schools don’t choose students – and cannot, by law. Rather, students and parents pick us. In Arizona, they’re able to choose among hundreds of programs and curricula, “cherry picking” the best fit for their child.
The blogger implies that we should be ashamed of our student demographics, and makes factually incorrect assertions regarding our English Language Learner (ELL), Special Education and economically disadvantaged student populations.
Here are the real overall numbers:
- 40% Caucasian (non-Hispanic)
- 25% Hispanic, African American, and mixed race
- 35% Asian/Indian
- All BASIS charters have free and reduced lunch qualifying students (ranging up to 20%).
- We have English Language Learner (ELL) students at our schools.
- We have students with a wide range of special needs at our schools.
- We have no admissions testing. We test incoming students who are already admitted for mathematics placement.
- There is no mandatory donation. Fewer than 50% of our families donate annually; the average donation is about $700.
- The $300 fee the blogger mentions is a fully refundable book deposit – waived for anyone with economic hardship, and returned when textbooks are turned in.
- Simply, BASIS Charter Schools exist for any student who wishes to attend – and wins the enrollment lottery. We typically have 5,000 to 7,000 total students on our charter school waitlists annually.
False Claim #2
We have high attrition rates
While our schools are for anyone who wants our academic program, they’re not for everyone. Like any school, we do have student attrition. Families move, or decide they prefer a different kind of school, and students matriculate at natural breakpoints (5th to 6th or 8th to 9th grade).
Overall, from the 2015-16 to 2016-17 school years, our retention rates averaged:
- 91% from K to 8th grade.
- 93% from 9th to 12th grade.
- 65% from 8th to 9th grade.
False Claim #3
We expand only to serve upper class families
BASIS Charter Schools began as one school in central Tucson in 1998, serving a largely low- and middle-income student population. Today, we have charters in Scottsdale, Prescott, Flagstaff, Goodyear, central Phoenix, Mesa, Washington, D.C., and other communities with varied median household incomes.
We are also specifically servicing the lowest income areas in Arizona. BASIS Phoenix South opens this fall, serving a largely Latino and African-American student population from neighborhoods around 19th Avenue and Southern. BASIS Tucson South opens by 2019, and, thereafter, we’ll continue to serve communities that desire our program.
False Claim #4
We have high administrative expenses
The blogger cites an entirely misleading study. Not only that, but the study’s author subsequently produced a more-accurate study of charter administrative costs – and found that every BASIS Charter School in Arizona is among 190 “efficiently run charter schools” in our state.
In Arizona, the breakdown of expenses outside the classroom falls into three categories:
- Support services
- All other support services and operations
Here’s the blogger’s error: BASIS Charter Schools classify a large number of expenses as “administration.” However, many others classify the same administrative expenses in “support services” or “all other support services and operations.” For example, the cited study trumpets schools that appear to have low administrative expenses, even though those same schools do not count building operations, or maintenance, in the administrative category. Without knowing precisely what each district or charter codes to the three categories, it’s impossible to objectively compare.
Further, as mentioned above, Jim Hall, the cited study’s author, produced a new study in 2016 called “Arizona Charter School Classroom Spending,” which counted every BASIS Charter School among the charters that spend the least on administrative and building expenses, and among those that spend the most on direct classroom expenses.
False Claim #5
We are struggling financially
The blogger ends her post with a quote from a former school administrator who looked at one of our audits, and jumped to incorrect conclusions.
Over the past few years, BASIS Charter Schools have successfully refinanced a portfolio of our schools. This requires the expensing of debt issuance costs and other fees related to the refinancing in the year the refinancing is signed. However, these issuance costs and other fees are actually being paid out over 25 years. BASIS Charter Schools continue to be cash flow positive. We have cleared all debt covenants and financial compliance metrics for charter renewals and new charter applications.
Finally, the blog post suggests that BASIS.ed and BASIS Charter Schools are “building an empire.” What critics see as imperial, however, 20,000 students and their parents see as a journey toward better opportunities as students, and beyond.
Please note the word “passport” in this essay’s title. It’s a reference to a Malcom X quote: “Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” We believe that has been and continues to be true for every student who has ever come to one of our schools. That’s why we come to work every day.
Peter Bezanson is CEO of BASIS.ed
EDITOR’S NOTE: A counter-point to this commentary can be found here.
The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.