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Report: Arizona falls in middle of states for progress of charter schools

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WASHINGTON – Twenty years after enacting its state public charter school law, Arizona has a way to go if it wants to lead the nation’s charter school movement, a new report said.

The report Wednesday by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools put Arizona in the middle of the pack, ranking it 14th out of 26 states where 1 percent or more of the total public school population attended a charter school.

The state did slightly better when compared to the 43 states with charter school laws, ranking 16th in the report for its “medium-strength” law.

The ranking was a surprise to one charter school official in the state, who thinks Arizona’s schools are better than that.

“I would certainly want and expect us to be closer to the top,” said Leah Fregulia Roberts, head of school and CEO at the Arizona School for the Arts.

She said she thinks the state has some of the best charter schools in the nation and has made significant improvements over the years.

The Arizona Department of Education declined through a spokeswoman to comment on the report. Calls seeking comment from the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools were not immediately returned Wednesday.

The report – The Health of the Public Charter School Movement: A State-by-State Analysis – ranked 25 states and the District of Columbia on 11 different indicators, ranging from overall growth to number of minority students to additional days of math and reading.

The 26 states that had 1 percent of the student body in charter schools and which had participated in a 2013 study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes were scored on a possible 116 points. Arizona finished with 59 points. The District finished first with 104 points while Nevada was in last place with 32 points.

Roberts said Arizona did not get enough credit for the growth of its charters.

“Some of the things that we do well is allow the high-quality charters to replicate easily,” she said of charters in Arizona.

The state won high praise in a September report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, which gave Arizona an A on a report card, citing its strong charter school law and the school-choice options provided to parents.

Charter schools are state-funded schools that are privately operated but open to all students, giving parents more schooling options for their children, supporters say.

In 2013-2014, 30 percent of Arizona’s public schools were charters and 17 percent of the state’s public school students were charter students, equaling more than 190,000 students in 605 charter schools, the report said.

Arizona was one of the first states to establish a public charter school law in 1994. Minnesota had passed the first such law three years earlier.

The charter school movement in Arizona aims to make high-quality education accessible to all students, Roberts said.

“It’s about looking at different ways of bringing public school students the quality of education that not all of them have access to,” she said.