Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva calls for tougher standards for charter schools

PHOENIX - Valley voters made the decision about your money and your kids' schools on Tuesday.

More than 30 districts asked for more funding.

Some received the money needed to make up for state cuts. But a lot of districts asking for money to spend on school programs were told "no."

These override elections are the result of districts trying to make up for millions of dollars in cuts from the state.

Now many districts are dealing with deeper cuts as more parents pull their kids out of their neighborhood school in favor of charter schools.

Arizona has 535 charter schools, adding more than 10,000 new students in the last year. That leaves Arizona with the fastest growing charter program system in the country.

Like public schools Arizona's charters schools get their money from the state budget, but they can't supplement funds with bonds or overrides. Those parents who believe in charter schools say it's not how much money the district has, it is about how that money is spent that makes a difference.

"Next to family and God, education is number one," said parent Reanna Loera

So for Loera, finding the perfect school for her son Richy was critical.

"He's been through a lot, he lost his father at a young age," Loera explained. "And without the leadership from the school I don't think they would have been able to get through that loss."

Leadership found inside the classrooms at Espiritu Community Development Corporation -- one of the only A-rated schools in South Phoenix.

"We've developed our own leadership program where we can develop students not just through academics but in mind, body and spirit," said Adrian Ruiz, Executive Director of Espiritu Community Development Corporation.

Leadership is not its only strength.

"Nobody is a number, everyone is special," said Loera.

It's about teachers pushing children to reach their full potential.

"Because of that high level of individualized attention, he's already doing better," Loera said.

But despite that proof of success, some lawmakers want to see charter schools held to a higher standard.

"We are going to focus on some real accountability," said Congressman Raul Grijalva, (D) Arizona.

Grijalva is making it part of his mission this legislative session to create tougher standards for charter schools.

"Have some uniformity in the certification process. Have some uniformity in the accountability process. Those are tax dollars," Grijalva said.

Espiritu's Ruiz says that Arizona charter schools have to comply with the same state and federal standards and all of their records are public.

"We are still held to high standards. Charter schools have responded to that charge and are meeting those standards," Ruiz said.

Standards that might not matter to Richy yet, but they do to his mom.

Grijalva couldn't get specific on the type of legislation he wants to create, but he said bi-partisan reform would be drafted by January.

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