Sponsoring about 540 charter schools, the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools is the largest entity that authorizes and oversees charter schools in the state. As a component of its authorizing practices, it has developed safeguards to ensure charter schools’ enrollment policies and procedures comply with state and federal laws.
For example, applicants interested in opening a new charter school through the charter application process must “describe the proposed fair and equitable admission requirements and documents required in the enrollment packet.” Additionally, in February 2017, the board improved the Marketing and Student Enrollment section of the application instructions to require applicants to “identify the documentation collected separately as part of the enrollment and registration processes.”
A charter board spokesperson said the “rationale for this requirement is to ascertain during the evaluation process of a new charter application, that the applicant has thought through what documents are appropriate and within statute to ask for during the enrollment process versus the registration process.” If an applicant, for example, were to say documents pertaining to a student’s special education needs are collected at other times than the registration process, then “the Technical Review Panel reviewing the application would indicate that the applicant has not met the criteria for this section,” according to the charter board spokesperson.
Once approved, new charter schools get an unannounced, first-year site visit by their assigned education program managers, during which enrollment policies and forms are reviewed pursuant to A.R.S. §15-184.
Schools that are found to be noncompliant with statutory and contractual (per the contract between the charter authorizer and the charter holder) requirements, such as aligning their curriculum with Arizona’s academic standards, are required to take corrective action. Site reviews are also conducted every five years and whenever concerns are raised about a school. However, in spite of these accountability measures, many unlawful enrollment practices slip through the cracks.
Even with its established safeguards, the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools has failed to effectively oversee its charter schools given that the enrollment materials, handbooks, websites and other public materials of so many Arizona charter schools contain violations and exclusionary language related to student enrollment. Regardless of whether this failure is caused by a lack of resources or inadequate procedures for reviewing charter schools, it is troubling that the board has missed these illegal or exclusionary enrollment policies.