Many educators believe parental involvement is a critical part of a student’s educational success. Therefore, many schools encourage parents to be engaged in their children’s education. However, charter schools may not require parental involvement as a condition of enrollment or continued enrollment.
Still, some charter schools mandate parents commit to a certain number of volunteer hours before their children can be enrolled. At least 46 charter schools require parents to commit to volunteer a certain number of hours, with at least six schools allowing “buyouts” for parents to pay their way out of these volunteer commitments. Volunteer demands, even those that offer a “buyout” option, are likely to lead to the exclusion of certain groups of students. For example, students whose parents work multiple jobs, students in foster care or group homes, and students raised by elderly grandparents may be unable to meet requested volunteer obligations.
Some charter schools also ask parents to donate money. While schools are allowed to request donations from parents, they should do so in a manner that makes clear that any donations to the school are voluntary and not a prerequisite for student admission or continued enrollment. Mandatory donations violate the Arizona constitutional requirement that public schools provide instruction free of charge (A.R.S. § 15-184(A); Ariz. Const. art. XI, § 6).
In addition, charter schools should avoid pressuring parents into donating money. The BASIS schools, for example, ask parents to make an annual contribution of at least $1,500 per student, or a monthly pledge of $150. According to a BASIS spokesperson, 10 percent of families donate that amount and 61 percent do not make a donation. Families who donate $1,500 are recognized in an annual brochure and families who donate $2,500 or more have their names placed on a plaque, a BASIS spokesperson said, making it known which parents donated and which ones did not. This manner of public notice may lead some parents and students to feel ashamed of their inability or unwillingness to pay for a public school education.
Great Hearts schools (schools across the Phoenix metro area): Each family is asked to contribute $1,500 per student per year to help cover the gap “between what we need to deliver the top-tier education that your children deserve and what we receive from public funding.” The school also notes, “Knowing that the situation is different for every family, we encourage families to give as they are able.”
Scottsdale Country Day School (Scottsdale): Parents are encouraged to donate anywhere from $200 to $2,000 to the school. Parents who donate $1,000 are given a bracelet, water bottle, alarm clock, and a plush lion. They also get their family’s name on the “giving tree.” Parents who donate $2,000 get all that plus a backpack. The school notes their contribution can be tax deductible.
Eduprize School (Queen Creek, Gilbert): “Parents are required to volunteer a minimum of 80 hours per family each year.”
Mission Montessori Academy (Scottsdale): Parents are asked to volunteer 15 hours every year per child enrolled, or make a contribution of $150 to the school in lieu of volunteer hours. Parents are also expected to attend parent education seminars designed to enhance their understanding of their child’s Montessori education. In addition, the school requests a “gift” of $1,500 per child “to maintain the excellence in our present educational model and to meet the continued state reductions.”
Montessori Day Public Schools Chartered (Chandler, Phoenix): “All parents are expected to contribute 40 hours of volunteer time per family, per year.”
StarShine Academy (Phoenix): The entity that operates StarShine Academy in Phoenix also operates a private school that is not associated with the charter school, but that’s not made clear in the enrollment forms. One form for high school students mentions a tuition cost and a 30-hour volunteer commitment per year.
- At the very least, schools should make clear that donations are optional and will not influence enrollment. Ideally, charter schools should not solicit donations from parents or students.
- Charter schools should make clear that volunteerism is not a condition of enrollment or continued enrollment.