Republicans in the Arizona Senate voted Thursday to impose new rules in charter schools over the objections of Democrats who said the legislation doesn’t do enough to end problems.
The legislation was prompted by news reports about instances of charter operators enriching themselves, falling short academically or failing financially.
Democrats said the legislation was written by the charter industry and gives the false impression that the Legislature has resolved problems with charter schools.
“This is just so frustrating,” said Sen. Andrea Dalessandro, a Democrat from Green Valley. “It is merely an illusion of doing something. It has no teeth in it, and I think we’re just disappointing the voters that have asked us to do reform.”
Sen. Kate Brophy McGee disagreed, acknowledging the bill “does not solve every problem in the charter spectrum” but saying it’s a compromise that makes improvements. The Legislature can’t go too far in erasing the flexibility that defines charters, she said.
“We need to preserve school choice,” said Brophy McGee, a Phoenix Republican who sponsored the legislation.
Brophy McGee’s bill would limit the number of family members that can serve on a charter board and require disclosure of contracts with companies owned by board members. It also would give the attorney general more authority to investigate questionable purchasing decisions.
Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, a Gilbert Republican who made millions selling his for-profit charter school to a nonprofit organization, said the legislation was not needed, though he voted for it anyway.
He said he and other charter operators are the victims of anti-charter activists who want to impose their agenda.
He said critics misunderstand the point of charters, which he says is that they not be governed like district schools.
“I don’t think this bill is necessary because I don’t think there are major broken issues with charter schools,” Farnsworth said.
He lashed out The Arizona Republic, which has reported aggressively on the charter industry and Farnsworth’s nonprofit conversion.
Democrats tried unsuccessfully Wednesday to put additional restrictions into the legislation, including a ban on new for-profit charters and a limit on the amount of money that can go to a so-called charter management organization.
Critics say some charter operators have issued no-bid management contracts to companies they own.