Arizona Charter Schools: What Parents Need to Know
Charter schools are schools that are publicly funded but independently run. This unique operation model sets charter schools apart from traditional public schools and gives them more freedom over things like curricula, staffing, and budgeting.
In our article “How Do Charter Schools Work?”, we covered the ins and outs of what charter schools are and how they differ from traditional public schools and private schools. But it’s important to remember that charter schools are not one-size-fits-all; specific laws and regulations vary from state to state.
Arizona has a long history of providing parents with ample school choice options. With several private school tuition assistance programs and an open enrollment policy for public schools, it’s no surprise that Arizona has a thriving charter school program, too.
Here’s your crash course on how charter schools work in Arizona.
In 1994, Arizona became the 11th state in the country to pass a charter school law. The first Arizona charter schools opened their doors shortly after. According to a report from the Arizona Charter Schools Association, 67 charter schools opened in 1995 alone.
The number of charter schools in the state grew rapidly over the next decade. In 1998, BASIS Charter Schools opened its first school in Tucson. By 2003—less than 10 years after Arizona’s first charter school law was put into place—there were almost 500 charter schools in operation.
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools reports that as of the 2020–21 school year, over 230,000 Arizona students attended charter schools.
Notably, Arizona has a larger percentage of its public school students attending charter schools than any other state. Approximately 20% of public school students in Arizona attend a charter school.
What’s behind the popularity of Arizona charter schools? Part of it has to do with the effectiveness of the state’s charter school legislation. Every year, the Center for Education Reform analyzes and ranks state charter school laws based on criteria such as potential for growth, school autonomy, and equity. In 2022, Arizona was one of only two states to receive an A ranking from the organization.
Additionally, all Arizona students, no matter where they live, are able to attend charter schools. There are no admissions tests or other qualifications required to enroll your child in an Arizona charter school—you simply need to fill out an application.
Just like any other public school, Arizona charter schools are funded through taxpayer dollars. They are completely free to attend.
The amount of money Arizona charter schools receive each year is dependent on their enrollment numbers. Charter schools receive the same base level of state and federal funding as traditional public schools, but they do not have access to funding from local property taxes. To make up for this disparity, the state provides charter schools with per-pupil “additional assistance” funding.
Arizona charter schools are held accountable by authorized public chartering agencies. Whenever a new charter school opens, they are required to sign a contract with a local authorizer.
In Arizona, there are several entities that can serve as charter school authorizers:
- The Arizona State Board for Charter Schools
- The Arizona State Board of Education
- Local universities or community colleges
Each charter school’s contract includes performance benchmarks that the school is required to meet each year. In addition to following the terms and conditions laid out in their chartering agreement, Arizona charter schools are required to meet all state academic standards.
Learn about the BASIS Charter Schools network
What started as a single school in Tucson, Arizona is now an expansive network of charter schools spanning the Grand Canyon State. To date, BASIS Charter Schools operates 22 schools in Arizona.
BASIS Charter Schools are some of the highest-ranked schools in the state. In fact, eight of U.S. News & World Report’s top 10 Best High Schools in Arizona belong to the BASIS Charter Schools network. Schedule a tour at a school near you for a firsthand look at what makes our schools so successful.
For more information on how different education options compare to one another, download our guide, “A Parent’s Guide to School Choice.”