Monday, January 27, 2014

Arizona kicks off School Choice Week with AZ Charter Schools Association and Stand for Children panel breakfast

This morning I had the opportunity to sit on a panel kicking off School Choice Week in Arizona. I sat alongside esteemed education experts including Lisa Graham Keegan; Julia Meyerson, the founder and E.D. of Vista College Prep; Adrian Ruiz, the Executive Director of Espiritu Community Development Corporation; and DeAnna Rowe, the Executive Director of AZ State Board for Charter Schools. The panel was moderated by Jay Heiler, one of Arizona’s top experts on the charter school movement. The topic of this morning’s meeting was Public School Accountability – something the Arizona Chamber is working diligently to increase.

Among the issues that were brought up this morning, I wanted to highlight a few of the key items. Julia Meyerson runs Vista College Prep, a K-5 charter in south Phoenix with a winning model. Meyerson’s classrooms are named after universities and the kids are taught that college preparation starts in Kindergarten.  Meyerson indicated that one of her greatest challenges in opening her school was gaining access to a facility. Charter schools don’t have easy access to start-up capital, and the Arizona Chamber seeks to address this issue with a legislative policy that will open up some empty school buildings to high-performing charters and districts. We need to diligently pursue policies that open up opportunities for our highest of performers.

There was also mention of the importance of funding a data system that will be used to maximize accountability. The Arizona Department of Education has been flagging this as a necessity for quite some time, and Governor Brewer proposed in her budget to fund the data system to the tune of $16.5 million. The business community strongly supports this, as we know that without data and measurable outcomes, we can’t measure success.

Also in the Governor’s budget was a $40 million request for “Student Success Funding,” which fits nicely with the topic of accountability. These dollars are based on student performance and are therefore tied directly to accountability. This is yet another example of where Arizona is headed in terms of demanding excellent schools and rewarding them accordingly.

There is much work to be done here in Arizona to ensure that every student, regardless of their zip code, receives a top notch education. Be on the lookout for an announcement later this week to get just at this topic. Thanks to all who made this morning’s bipartisan event possible. It was great to have both chairmen of the Approps committees, Senator Shooter and Representative Kavanagh, as well as a number of other legislators and business leaders in the room. John Fisher and Kelly McManus of Stand for Children, along with Eileen Sigmund of the AZ Charter Schools Association put on an excellent event full of Arizona’s education thought leaders on the topic of school choice. Thanks for including me! 

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