A Republican lawmaker wants school districts held to the same procurement standards as Arizona charter schools, but most charters aren’t held to any procurement standard at all.
Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction, filed House Bill 2035 on January 7, proposing school districts be made subject to the same procurement laws that apply to charter schools starting in the 2019-2020 school year.
But what procurement rules he’s specifically referring to is not clear.
That’s because there are no procurement statutes specific to charter schools that could be applied to school districts, according to Chris Kotterman, a lobbyist for the Arizona School Boards Association.
Charter schools are subject to the rules governing school districts unless they specifically receive an exemption from their sponsors. In most cases, charters enter into agreements with the State Board for Charter Schools, and most do receive exemptions.
Charter schools allies have argued smaller schools operating on smaller margins shouldn’t be required to comply with the same regulations applied to larger school districts.
Kotterman said the bill appears to be an effort to extend procurement flexibility to school districts. Technically, though, he doesn’t think it would do what Fillmore may want it to accomplish.
The only difference between the two is the ability to obtain an exemption, and there’s currently no mechanism for districts to do that.
If that exemption is what Fillmore is trying to get at in his proposal, though, he couldn’t say.
“I’m not an expert on the exemption rule,” he told the Arizona Capitol Times on January 9.
He said he simply doesn’t want school districts hamstrung when it comes to their purchasing power.
“Charter schools have a very distinct advantage over the public school [districts],” he said. “I was trying to free them up.”
Kotterman said HB2035 would then effectively do away with all procurement rules for school districts or allow the State Board of Education to grant waivers.
The latter could be problematic from his perspective.
Advocates for charter school reform have long pointed to procurement rules as an area ripe for change, contending exemptions leave the process vulnerable to corruption.
Kotterman said school districts would still be subject to more rigorous financial oversight, but being able to obtain exemptions could open them up to the same criticism.
“I’m certainly not going to say that more flexibility for school districts is a bad thing,” he said. “But my guess would be that you’d see people say you can’t have these political subdivisions with no accountability for taxpayer dollars. That’s why procurement exists.”
Fillmore did not share Kotterman’s concern.
He laid blame on the State Board for Charter School for any problematic purchases by charter schools, and said he believes in the oversight districts already provide.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comments by Rep. John Fillmore