Having read Shalisa Arnold’s full-throated defense of legislator and charter operator Eddie Farnsworth and his Benjamin Franklin Charter Schools, I thought, “Huh. Ms. Arnold missed a few salient points.”
Arnold, the curriculum director for his school, is excited about how successful the schools are. Test scores show this. Graduation rates show this.
Grades given by the state? Not so much. All of Farnsworth’s schools earned a B in the latest state evaluation. A B, of course, is a solid grade. But the school districts Farnsworth competes with contain several A-rated schools.
Ms. Arnold must have missed that.
Just as she missed a few other points.
Farnsworth’s elementary schools do not provide bus transportation. Which means? Without school-provided transportation, parents must ferry their kids to and from Franklin charters. And since he doesn’t take federal funds, he doesn’t have to provide free or reduced lunches.
In other words, kids from poorer homes are implicitly discouraged from attending Farnsworth’s schools.
So it is unsurprising that his schools perform well – involved parents supporting their kids by making sure they get to school each day suggests an admirable parental concern for their kids. Which usually leads to success in school. Farnsworth has created a system to help ensure his schools avoid the more challenging students to educate.
Ms. Arnold also touts the school board being created for the new nonprofit version of Franklin Charters. What she doesn’t mention is that not only are they Farnsworth’s friends, but that he hand-picked them. And she omitted this inconvenient fact: up to now, Farnsworth’s school board consisted of one person – Farnsworth.
That’s one way, I suppose, to ensure a profitable operation. For Farnsworth, that is. Ms. Arnold is most upset about The Arizona Republic’s reporting about the windfall of millions Farnsworth will reap when he sells the schools to the nonprofit. She notes that Farnsworth “personally guaranteed loans and leases.” And that Farnsworth “purchased the buildings through private sector financing.”
Yes, all true. But how did he pay for those loans and leases? How much of his own money did he actually spend to pay off those debts? Ms. Arnold doesn’t say. My guess. Little if any, using taxpayer-provided funds instead. And now he will make millions as a result.
Of course, Ms. Arnold does admit that there is what she calls “room for improvement.” What she omits is how much Farnsworth contributed to that need, for example, enthusiastically supporting J.D. Mesnard’s last-minute amendment to a bill, one that excluded charters from the procurement laws, gift laws, and budget transparency laws school districts must follow.
Benjamin Franklin Charters, like so many in our state, do a fine job of educating a narrow slice of students. For that, Ms. Arnold should be proud. But to say that, as she does, Farnsworth’s schools “provide a unique education” ignores the outstanding traditional public schools that do an equally and sometimes better job of educating a much broader student population. And no one in those schools becomes a multimillionaire as a result.
Mike McClellan is a retired English teacher and lives in Gilbert.
The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.