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ACLU report targets charters for same practices followed by school districts


The American Civil Liberties Union is worried about public schools with “exclusionary” enrollment policies? That’s good to know.

Because for all but the last 20 years of our state’s existence, where you went to school depended on where you lived. Affluent families could afford to buy homes in expensive neighborhoods with high-quality schools. As for everyone else, we were at the mercy of our local district school. Students stuck in failing schools had no escape.

Talk about enrollment suppression and discrimination …

Eileen Sigmund

Eileen Sigmund

Thankfully, this injustice was significantly curtailed in Arizona over the last two decades with the adoption of open enrollment policies and the advent of charter schools. These were hard-fought wins, achieved over the staunch opposition of the education establishment – namely the teacher’s union and school districts.

Where has the ACLU been? Not with Arizona families fighting for access to better schools.

So, please excuse my cynicism at the ACLU’s newfound concern with school enrollment policies. The organization recently issued a report that accused more than half of all Arizona charter schools of having enrollment policies that “discourage the enrollment of certain students.”

I would never excuse actions that are a clear violation of the law. But the overwhelming majority of practices singled-out by the ACLU are neither illegal nor anything but commonplace among both public charter and district schools. A few examples of what the ACLU dinged charters for include:

Asking parents of a prospective student for the child’s birth certificate to document his or her age and identity.

Inquiring if a new student has an Individual Education Plan (as special education students do). The ACLU says the question alone discourages enrollment – never mind that schools are required by law to establish if a student has an Individual Education Plan in order to ensure there is no gap in special education services upon starting class.

Requesting prior academic records. This is necessary to assess the student’s proficiency and determine what classes are appropriate after enrollment.

If it weren’t already clear the ACLU is on a witch-hunt, keep in mind the organization limited its review of school enrollment policies to strictly charters. That’s right – the ACLU ignored the practices of district schools that enroll approximately 85 percent of all Arizona students. The oversight is probably no accident, as a cursory online review shows district schools from Glendale to Prescott and Paradise Valley to Yuma require many of the same documents upon enrollment that the ACLU finds so objectionable.

The fact is, Arizona charter schools serve a student population that is racially and socioeconomically diverse and growing more diverse with time. The student body for charters is “majority-minority” (45 percent white; 55 percent non-white), and enrollment of students with special education needs is within a few percentage points of districts.

Enrollment in Arizona charters is booming – up more than 40,000 students, or 28 percent, since 2012-13 alone. Statewide district enrollment is down 1 percent during that same time period.

Contrary to the misplaced assertions of the ACLU, this kind of student growth is only possible because Arizona charters have thrown their doors open to all students and families. Charters are giving families what they want. That includes high achievement, as charter students of every racial and ethnic group have outperformed the state average for each of the past three years.

That’s the kind of news that may not earn the ACLU kudos among its liberal friends, but it’s the truth. And it’s what matters most to Arizona parents making decisions about where to send their kids to school.

— Eileen Sigmund is the president and CEO of the Arizona Charter Schools Association.

One comment

  1. You, Ms. Sigmund voice the opinions of someone who believes that charter schools really open their doors to minority students and special education students, at least I think you really believe this. You say you do. As a former charter school administrator, I can tell you the truth: charter schools have their ways of carefully selecting their students, and believe me, they do just that. Face it, many of those charter schools exclude students who are not already academically successful–unless they are building a powerhouse athletic program, by design. Your reference to “charter students of every racial and ethnic group have outperformed the state average for each of the past three years” is a bold and suspicious claim. Where’s your data? Because over the past decades, charter students perform equally to public school students–no better, no worse. There are obvious reasons for that, which I won’t get in to here. Charter schools have been shown to provide a socially segregated school opportunity. Those public schools you say exist in poorer parts of school districts–which obviously they do–do not provide a substandard education, and if they do it’s because their leadership is still in the 20th century in terms of educational methods! So what is fairer–a high performing public school (which all our schools ought to be) whose students are defined by their location of residence? Or a high performing charter school located somewhere where access is a problem for students without means, that picks and chooses its students based on the (quiet) preferences of its leadership, that employs the same teachers that taught in those public schools you accuse of being insufficient, in which students are “stuck without escape.” No Ms. Sigmund, your case for charter schools does not wash with us insiders who know the truths of both charter and public schools. Which holds more promise? Why, public schools of course–but you wouldn’t know that if you didn’t know the complexities involved. Are our public & charter schools up to snuff? NO! And that is due to the absence of vision, courage, cutting-edge knowledge of learning on the part of their respective leadership.

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