I remember when charter schools were marketed as an innovative idea to provide educational alternatives to Arizona’s traditional district schools. I was a supporter of the movement and enrolled my children in a charter school with the promise that they would be in a supportive and safe learning environment. I quickly learned that that was not the case. While these schools pilfer Arizona tax dollars, students, especially children of color, children with disabilities and English Language Learners, are pushed out of the classroom on a daily basis.

My disillusionment with our charter school system and the actors who refuse to hold them accountable led me to the ACLU of Arizona’s Demand to Learn campaign. Demand to Learn is doing what the Arizona State Charter Board is reluctant to do – we are addressing the lack of oversight and accountability in Arizona charter schools and demanding change.

As the governing body for the vast majority of Arizona charter schools, the Board President and its members have the unique opportunity to impact a large amount of students and families in a very immediate way. Yet, instead of designing the charter school system to benefit students, it seems designed for charter holders to make as much money as possible, operate in secrecy and with impunity.

When the governor, attorney general, legislators and charter leaders call for charter reform, we must insist that parents from various backgrounds be included in that conversation. And we must look beyond fixing the financial mishandling. We must look at why charter schools have a confusing and often faulty complaint system. We must ask why charter schools are not reviewed on a yearly basis. We must demand data to determine how students are being pushed out of the classroom. We must demand that they be unbiased when looking at enrollment and discipline data for the schools they oversee. 

Only working together in a cohesive, inclusive, and transparent forum will we be able to address the inequality plaguing Arizona charter schools.

Demand to Learn has reached across the aisle to work with those who can protect Arizona students. When the Charter Board asked to hear “real stories” from parents, I told my story and others courageously followed. When the Charter Board finally stopped ignoring the parents and advocates of Demand to Learn and expressed interest in collaboration, we welcomed them to the table and expressed our complaints directly with them. However, when they realized the scope of misconduct and depth of their obligations, they reverted to diminishing our complaints and mission.

Like many other families, I still believe in the charter school system, but only when the offending schools are held accountable and safeguards are implemented from preventing any future offenses will the public trust in them again.  

Demand to Learn wants to see every child afforded an equitable education and wants to eliminate harsh disciplinary policies like ‘zero-tolerance’ from Arizona classrooms. Demand to Learn believes that schools and its community should embrace every child, regardless of their background, race, gender, educational or emotional challenges. Demand to Learn fights for families who want only the best for their children but are faced with enrollment barriers at school doors. 

If you stand with Demand to learn, join our movement to end the exclusionary enrollment practices in Arizona.

 

Contact demandtolearn@acluaz.org if you or your student have been pushed out of school due to discriminatory practices.
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