Arizona on track to serve more disadvantaged students

The Arizona Charter Schools Program (AZCSP) of the Arizona Department of Education received a $55 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to support the growth of charter schools geared toward serving disadvantaged students.

“This is a federal grant from the ESEA, which is the Elementary Secondary Education Act title IV. It is to support the growth and expansion of quality charter schools to provide parents more options for their children, and to help the public learn more about charter schools,” Dr. Mark Francis, Arizona Charter Schools Program director, said.

Under the grant, school leaders can apply for funding to open a charter school.

Dr. Francis explained the schools must have at least:

  •     40 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch
  •     40 percent minority students
  •     40 percent students with an identified disability
  •     40 percent English language learners (ELL)

Studies show that without proper education, disadvantaged students can suffer academically and fall on the lower end of the achievement gap.  

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) defines the achievement gap as “when one group of students (such as, students grouped by race/ethnicity, gender) outperforms another group and the difference in average scores for the two groups is statistically significant (that is, larger than the margin of error).”

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), administered by NCES, shows that there is an achievement gap between low income Arizona students and those in higher income families.

In 2017, Arizona students who are not eligible for free or reduced lunch (FRL) exceeded students who are eligible for FRL in fourth and eighth grade reading by an overall 52 points. Those students also surpassed students who are eligible for FRL in fourth and eighth grade math by an overall 50 points.

Funding the development of charter schools that will serve disadvantaged students encourages closing the apparent achievement gap in Arizona.

“Arizona is the leader in the United States of America in charter schools, and it is a recognized leader by the U.S. Department of Education,” Dr. Francis explained. “Over the past ten years, they have invested over $125 million in the expansion of charter schools in the state of Arizona. Of that, $75 million dollars has been targeted for disadvantaged students.”

Within the guidelines of state and federal law, a charter can set up and define its educational program. The decision-making and the accountability lie within that particular school.

Dr. Francis said this is the third time AZCSP has been awarded the Expanding Opportunity Through Quality Charter Schools grant, and it is administering a competitive application process for possible subrecipients.

“We are looking for people who have had experience working with disadvantaged students in closing achievement gaps. What they would be able to do is to get start-up funds to help them start new schools,” Dr. Francis explained.

The Arizona Department of Education website outlines the rules. “Subrecipients will be supported by a $250,000 annual award over a period of five years for a total of $1.25 million. Five award competitions will be held annually in November 2018 through 2022. Subrecipients must agree to participate in AZCSP staff and contractor instructional and finance/operational/grants management technical assistance all five years.”

Sierra Ciaramella

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