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Survey: Most Legislative Candidates Support Charter Schools, School Choice

Paul Atkinson/KJZZ
file | staff

Every two years, before the primary elections for Arizona state legislators, the Arizona Charter Schools Association (ACSA) sends out a survey to every candidate asking them about their support for public education, education funding and school choice.

They found that nearly 9 in 10 of the candidates who responded said they rank K-12 education as their first or second priority, more than 80 percent of candidates believe parents should be able to choose what school is best for their children, and 75 percent support the concept of public charter schools.

To ACSA President and CEO Eileen B. Sigmund, their questions mainly surround the issue of school choice.

“Arizona has one of the largest charter movements in the country, we lead the nation in the percentage of charter schools and students,” she said. “And we found there is broad-based support for school choice in Arizona.”

The survey also found 75 percent of candidates who responded said charter schools and district schools should be funded on an equitable basis.

And, this is all in light of the battle over education funding between the legislature and school districts that’s been going on for years.

The legislature sets the budget, including for education. And, Sigmund said, even though the passage of Proposition 123 gave schools a boost, there is not enough funding for our schools yet.

“I don’t think anyone would agree that in Arizona that we are meeting the resources that are required in our public education,” she said.

Charter schools are the growth sector of public education, according to Sigmund, but they can’t plan for growth when their financial future is so unclear.

“We want to have stable, predictable funding so our schools can plan on growth,” she said.

As we look toward the next legislative session, expanding excellent schools are facing a huge cut, according to Sigmund.

“And we need to get some certainty in the funding for our schools before they’re going to open their doors to more students,” she said. “And with huge waiting lists, we want our schools to be able to open their doors for more students.”

The ACSA also wants to make sure that students are funded equitably, whether they go to a district school or to a charter school.

“It’s not that we want to be funded the same as districts, what we’d really like to do is look at what our students needs are, and come to funding based on our 1.1 million students that we have,” she said. “Don’t base it on a system; base it on a student’s needs.”

Sigmund said they usually get about 30 to 35 percent of candidates to respond to their survey, which is consistent with what other organizations get during primary elections.

Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.