Arizona charter schools are illegally 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, according to a new report by the ACLU of Arizona.
The report, Schools Choosing Students, exposes Arizona’s 543 charter schools and their discriminatory—and sometimes unlawful—policies, which create barriers to enrollment for low-income students, English learners, students with disabilities, and other vulnerable student populations.
Schools Choosing Students found that at least 262 charter schools, or 56 percent, have policies that are clear violations of the law or may discourage the enrollment of some students. Some of the troubling findings include:
- At least 19 charter schools have policies or language in their enrollment documents that may prevent or discourage the enrollment of students who have struggled academically in the past. Arizona law prohibits schools from choosing students with high test scores or grades over other students.
- At least six charter schools place an enrollment cap on the number of students with special education needs, violating federal law and an Arizona statute that states charter schools shall not limit admission based on a student’s disability.
- Under the Arizona Constitution, students have a right to a free public education; however, at least 35 charter schools charge fees for a range of items without giving parents a waiver option.
The report gives specific examples of discrimination against students with disabilities, special education needs, a need for academic assistance, and kids who “don’t fit the mold” (which is code for “not good enough for the school.”)
Arizona charter schools operate independently, but they are part of Arizona’s public education system and use taxpayer funds. They must be open to all students. Education leaders must act to remove discriminatory barriers to enrollment so that all students have equal opportunity to enroll at a charter school if that’s what the student’s family wants.
“School choice” means families choose schools, not the other way around.
Read Schools Choosing Students in its entirety, available in English and Spanish, on the ACLU of Arizona website.