Arizona needs to take action to ensure that all charter schools return to the purpose for which they were legally established more than 20 years ago, to expand choice for parents and students, not to expand the bank accounts of private investors. Today, of the 1,900 public schools in our state, 500 are charter schools. All of them provide educational services tuition free to students and both school districts and charter schools receive funding from the state, but a major difference exists between the two: The land and buildings in traditional school districts are owned by the public school district, more specifically the taxpayers who live in the district. Land and buildings owned by a charter school are not owned by the public; they are owned by the owner of the charter school.
In recent months, for-profit charter school owners have taken advantage of this significant difference by selling their schools’ land and buildings and personally reaping potentially millions of dollars in gains. Yes, Arizona, that is legal. But should it be? Does personal profit and self-dealing have any place in the mission of public charter schools going forward? It should not.
When tax dollars pay for the building of a public highway, a state building, a city or county building, or buildings in a traditional school district, the property belongs to the public, not a private individual or company. We need laws on the books now to ensure that all prospective land, buildings and improvements purchased with tax dollars – including those of charter schools–are owned by the public. All dollars invested in by the state should be to provide educational services for Arizona students. Capitalism is not the issue, educational investment priorities for Arizona’s future are.
— Chuck Essigs is director of governmental relations for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials.
The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.