There’s a lot to like about Arizona charter schools these days.  It wasn’t always that way.

For years after Arizona passed its charter school law in 1994, charter public schools grew rapidly.  They were a great fit for the families within Arizona’s libertarian culture.  But sometimes quality wasn’t exactly in the picture.  Arizona became known as the “Wild West” of chartering.

  • In 2015, over 20 years later, Arizona charter school students outperformed the state average of students passing the test in English Language and Math by 5-12 percentage points at every grade level.
  • 49 of the top 50 LEAs (districts or charters) on the English Language and Math Exams are charters, when looking at percent of students passing the test.
  • Arizona’s charter students outperformed nearly every other state on the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress.


Today Arizona is home to 556 charter public schools serving about 171,000 students, representing 30% of schools and 15% of students in the 2015-16 school year.  They are supported by a strong association, the Arizona Charter Schools Association, led by President Eileen Sigmund.   (Eileen is at right of BASIS.ed General Counsel Michelle Keogh).

Eileen and the Association were co-hosts of the Legal Seminar of the Alliance of Public Charter School Attorneys held last week in Phoenix, Arizona, which I attended.  I was especially impressed with the breadth of the Association’s support services over recent years, including a lawsuit for equitable funding for all K-12 students, and a positive messaging campaign, “Charters Changing Lives.” In 2013, Eileen launched the separate nonprofits of New Schools for Phoenix which recruits and trains leaders to open high quality schools for low-income Phoenix students, and the Center for Student Achievement which is focused on high-quality school improvement initiatives, with particular emphasis on professional development and publication of rigorous and transparent research and evaluation.

As a first-time attendee, I found the legal seminar helpful for information, networking, and most of all, inspiration.  There are hard-working attorneys around the country supporting charter schools in multiple ways.  There is much to celebrate in our first 25 years of chartering.  But I was also sobered by the difficult battles still taking place in many states and cities.  Check out the next few blogposts for more.