Arizona is widely viewed as the state with the most options for school choice. The following definitions and resources can help parents navigate Arizona’s marketplace for elementary, junior high or middle and high schools.
There are two general types of public schools: Charter schools and schools operated by school districts. Charter schools and district schools are tuition-free and regulated by the state Board of Education, but charter schools are privately operated and exempt from some regulations that districts are required to follow.
For instance, charter school teachers are not required to be certified, although many are. Unlike school districts, charter schools function more like small businesses: If enrollment drops and business suffers, they could close. School districts and charter schools both have governing boards, but district boards are elected by the community while charter boards are appointed by the charter operator.
In addition, charter schools also have sponsoring boards that monitor them and provide oversight. In Arizona, charter schools can be sponsored by the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools or by a school district. Most charter schools are sponsored by the state charter board.
The traditional neighborhood school remains the most popular type of public school in Arizona. School districts draw boundaries to determine which neighborhoods are served by each school. But under the state’s openenrollment law, children can attend other schools within the district or in another district by applying to that school.
Many school districts offer different types of schools as alternatives to traditional neighborhood schools. For example, district options may include night school for teenagers who want to work during the day, back-to-basics elementary schools or schools that use the Montessori method of instruction.
School districts also offer career and technical education programs such as automotive or culinary arts, or send students interested in technical careers to the East Valley Institute of Technology in Mesa. EVIT offers a wide range of programs, from health care and radio broadcasting to cosmetology and firefighting, for high school students. Some students attend EVIT part time, taking their academic courses in their home school district. Others are at EVIT all day, taking their academic courses at the East Valley Academy, a school operated by the Mesa Unified School District next door to the EVIT campus. To learn more about schools in East Valley school districts, contact the district office in your community:
• Apache Junction Unified School District: (480) 982-1110 or www.ajusd.org.
• Cave Creek Unified School District: (480) 575-2000 or
• Chandler Unified School District: (480) 812-7000 or
• Coolidge Unified School District: (520) 723-2042 or
• East Valley Institute of Technology: (480) 461-4000 or
• Florence Unified School District: (520) 866-3500 or
• Fountain Hills Unified School District: (480) 664-5000 or www.fhusd.org.
• Gilbert Unified School District: (480) 497-3300 or
• Higley Unified School District: (480) 279-7000 or
• J.O. Combs Elementary School District: (480) 987-5300 or www.jocombs.org.
• Kyrene Elementary School District: (480) 783-4000 or
• Mesa Unified School District: (480) 472-0223 or
• Paradise Valley Unified School District: (602) 867-5100 or www.pvusd.k12.az.us.
• Queen Creek Unified School District: (480) 987-5935 or
• Scottsdale Unified School District: (480) 484-6100 or
• Tempe Elementary School District: (480) 730-7195 or
• Tempe Union High School District: (480) 839-0292 or
Many charter schools serve niche populations, such as performing arts students or at-risk students, while others offer different types of curriculums and instruction than traditional district schools, such as a back-to-basics focus or block scheduling. Charter schools are often smaller than district schools, offering smaller class sizes and more individualized instruction. Charter operators, which may be private companies or nonprofit groups, sign a contract or charter, with the state to provide a free public education to any child.
To learn more about charter schools and to obtain a current list of charter schools in your area, contact:
• Arizona State Board for Charter Schools, (602) 364-3080 or www.asbcs.state
PRIVATE AND PAROCHIAL SCHOOLS
Private and parochial schools have been expanding in the East Valley, especially since the state passed a tuition tax credit law that helps fund scholarships for students wanting to attend a private school. Families can receive a tax credit for donations to school tuition organizations. Parents can then apply for scholarships at the private school they want their child to attend or through a school tuition organization.
For information about tuition tax credits and contact information for school tuition organizations, visit www.azdor.gov/brochure/
Thousands of Maricopa County students learn at home. Parents who home school their children can get guidelines and other assistance from the Maricopa County Superintendent of Schools at www.maricopa.gov/ schools or (602) 506-3866. AZ Families for Home Education at www.afhe.org also can offer assistance.
HELPFUL WEB SITES
For help finding a public or private school in your area, check out the following Web sites:
• www.greatschools.net: This site lists all public and private schools and achievement and demographic data for each school and provides tips to parents for choosing a school.
• www.ade.az.gov/edd: This is the site for the Arizona Department of Education, which allows users to search for a public district school or charter school by city or ZIP code.