The stars came out Thursday night at the Arizona Biltmore as the Arizona Charter Schools Association celebrated its 25th anniversary and the educational movement that has profoundly changed the lives of millions of Arizona kids.
Keynoting the event was eight-time Grand Slam tennis champion and former number-one world player Andre Agassi.
Since retiring from the tennis court, Agassi has become a charter school champion, dedicating nearly two decades to expanding educational opportunities for kids and families across the country, particularly in low-income and underserved communities. Agassi is the co-managing partner of the Turner-Agassi Charter School Facilities Fund.
“Students in every community deserve a great education, and charter schools play an essential role in helping all young people develop the tools they need to unlock their fullest potential,” Agassi said.
Agassi reflected on how a segment on the news program 60 Minutes sparked his interest in the charter movement.
“I saw people rolling up their sleeves and they were changing the trajectories for children,” he said. “They didn’t have choice, and now they have the choice. It activated me in a powerful way. My objective was to make one point: Children don’t fail us; we fail them.”
The event also featured a conversation with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Lisa Graham Keegan, former state superintendent of public instruction and state legislator, who is widely credited as the mother of the school choice movement in Arizona.
During her time as chair of the state House Committee on Education, Keegan sponsored legislation that established the charter school concept in Arizona, as well as open enrollment.
“In the beginning, there was Lisa Graham Keegan,” Ducey said of the school choice pioneer.
The governor said Arizona’s tremendous growth over the past quarter-century has been aided by educational choice, offering new residents something they might not be able to access in other states.
“They are also finding that this is the very best state in the nation for choice in education,” Ducey said, referring to the millions of people who have made Arizona home since the launch of charter schools in 1994.
Enrollment in Arizona public charter schools is now at an all-time high, with more than 200,000 students attending one of more than 550 charter schools statewide.
“For 25 years, public charter schools have played an integral role in ensuring that every Arizona family — regardless of zip code or income — has access to a quality education,” said Jake Logan, president of the Arizona Charter Schools Association. “Today, public support remains as strong as ever, with nearly one in five Arizona students enrolled in a public charter school. The continued growth and success of these schools reaffirms what our charter pioneers understood a quarter-century ago: Parents know best when it comes to picking the right school for their child.”
Multiple factors account for the success of charter schools in Arizona, but leading factors cited by parents include the student-centered focus of charter schools and their academic performance.
Arizona now boasts charter schools of every size and specialty, including some of the nation’s premier college preparatory academies; specialty science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) schools; traditional, back-to-basics schools and much more.
“We recognize that this milestone is a credit to the visionaries, charter teachers, school leaders, advocates and policymakers who for more than two decades have embraced and supported public charter schools and their role in improving the education landscape,” Logan said. “To these champions: thank you. We look forward to working with you as we continue to raise the academic bar and deliver high-quality educational options for Arizona families.”
The event also featured remarks from Arizona Superintendent for Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman and video messages from U.S. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Martha McSally (R-AZ).