On January 16, Demand to Learn allies accompanied me as we delivered over 2,500 petition signatures to the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools and demanded they stand up for families across Arizona. The signatures were gathered after an ACLU of Arizona report, Schools Choosing Students, was released in December that revealed hundreds of public charter schools across the state have enrollment policies that are unlawful or discriminatory.

The Arizona State Board for Charter Schools authorizes more than 95 percent of charter schools in the state. They have the power to eliminate discriminatory policies and create a more equitable and fair enrollment process that benefits all students.

We stressed to the board that this is an urgent matter. Too many students are missing the opportunity for a quality education. 

We invited three mothers to speak to the board and explain why it is critical they hold the offending charter schools accountable:

Debbie Nez-Manuel presented the petition signatures to the board. As a mother to three children, she asked the board to recognize the value of every child and collaborate with efforts to make charter schools more inclusive.

Speaking in Spanish, Estela Moler told the board that she was asked to make a $2,500 donation when she tried to enroll her son at a local charter school. The school did not disclose to her that this donation was optional. Estela expressed her worry that this practice wrongly excludes certain families. 

Yara Vargas is a physician, mother to three black children ,and has been working with Demand to Learn for the past year. During this time, she’s heard many stories from parents who have faced discriminatory school practices that shut the door on kids, particularly children of color and children with disabilities.  

Debbie, Estela and Yara expressed to the board that schools are choosing students who fit their mold by applying exclusionary policies, failing to fulfill their “school choice” promise that all students have an equal opportunity to enroll.

The Arizona State Board for Charter Schools is uniquely positioned to ensure that charter schools are in compliance with state and federal law. To put an end to the discriminatory practices identified in Schools Choosing Students, we have made the following recommendations:

  • We requested that the board share recommendations outlined in the Schools Choosing Students report with all of the charter schools they oversee. In addition, we urged them to audit, monitor and investigate enrollment practices of every charter school under their jurisdiction annually. 
  • The board should not approve or renew any charter school application that contains illegal or exclusionary admissions or enrollment requirements. Schools that are not in compliance should be directed by the board to correct their policies or face serious consequences, including a withholding of state funding or charter revocation.
  • The board should look into the development a one-stop enrollment system that ensures the protection of all students, making it easier for families to access and fill out their enrollment forms in a lawful way. 

The Arizona State Board for Charter Schools needs to stand up for Arizona families. That is their duty. “School choice” should mean that families choose schools, not the other way around. Demand to Learn will be at every board meeting until the Charter Board implements our recommendations and makes this a reality.

All children deserve an opportunity to thrive in safe and supportive educational environments that prepare them for the future. Fighting alongside the rest of the Demand toLearn allies, I’ll make sure of it.

You can still take action in support of Arizona families. Click here to sign the petition