Charter reform bill passes state Senate

A bill to institute reforms in the charter school sector passed the state Senate on Thursday on a party-line vote. Democrats, including three who cosponsored the legislation, voted as a bloc to oppose it.

S.B. 1394, sponsored by Sen. Kate Brophy McGee (R-Phoenix), requires charter schools to adhere to new procurement rules, as well as regulations regarding the makeup of their governing boards and board member training. Considered the most comprehensive charter school reform in more than 25 years, Brophy McGee worked with stakeholders for months to develop legislation that provides additional transparency and oversight of pubic charter schools.

Democrats, however, including Minority Leader David Bradley (Tucson), Sen. Lela Alston (Phoenix) and Sen. Tony Navarrete (Phoenix), who were early cosponsors of the bill, all voted against it, frustrating Brophy McGee, who sought bipartisan support for her bill as it made its way through the legislative process.

“I’m grateful to my colleagues who supported S.B. 1394, the most ambitious charter-school reform package in 25 years,” Brophy McGee said. “Throughout this process, I’ve strived to ensure this effort is bipartisan – including feedback from Republicans, Democrats, charter supporters and critics. It’s disappointing that when it came time to actually vote on S.B. 1394, not a single Democratic legislator would vote in favor of the bill. I’m hopeful we’ll see cross-party cooperation in the House that matches the bipartisan spirit in which S.B. 1394 was written.”

Several Democrats, in explaining their votes, said that they are charter school supporters, but that they believe the bill did not place enough constraints on charter schools and their operators and that the bill should have been more stringent.

“We support charter schools and send our own children and grandchildren to them,” Sen. Bradley said in a statement. “Senate Bill 1394 began its journey with its sponsor expressing a willingness to proactively engage both the Senate and House Democratic Caucuses in the discussion. We signed on with the promise that we would be at the table to discuss measures that would strengthen the bill, which we were. With the rejection of our amendments, SB 1394 in its current form fails to resolve [our] issues.”

Sen. Sylvia Allen, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, expressed her frustration that colleagues were using S.B. 1394 as an opportunity to attack school choice rather than focusing on improving the existing system.

“I think we have a good public system in our state, and I support all schools,” Allen said. “I think they all have their place and I think choice is absolutely important to parents and students because were educating individual student who have individual needs and there needs to be individual ways of fulfilling those needs—and choice fulfills that.”

The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration in committee.

Lorna Romero

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