PHOENIX - A settlement announced Monday gives Arizona charter schools new flexibility on when to teach social studies under the state's grade-by-grade standards as long as the alternative public schools cover all the required academic ground eventually.
The settlement resolves a lawsuit filed on behalf of charter schools in Chandler, Mesa, Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tucson against state education officials, including Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne.
At issue was the schools' desire to continue teaching such subjects as U.S. history and ancient history at differing grade levels.
The parties to the lawsuit issued a joint statement announcing the settlement. "This is a win-win for both sides: Defendants can continue universal application of state standards, and the plaintiff schools will be able to continue teaching their proven curricula," the statement said.
Horne is a supporter of charter schools but had previously said the charter schools needed to abide by their state contracts and follow the state's standards to help keep accountability efforts on track.
The schools and their supporters saw the lawsuit as defending the autonomy of charters, which are publicly funded but often operated by private companies.
Arizona has been a forerunner of the charter school movement since 1994, and approximately one in 11 public school students now attend non-district charters.
The settlement's terms, announced jointly by the parties, permit the schools to request alternative standards on when to teach social studies topics other than the grades 5-12 sequence specified by the state standards.
However, the alternative standards would have to require that the material still be taught by the schools at some point.
Also, a school's alternative curriculum would have to incorporate "a substantially greater level of academic rigor."
The Department of Education would draft the alternative standards based on the charters' current curriculum. The alternative standards would be subject to approval by the state Board of Education.
The settlement permits the charters to resume their lawsuit if the alternative standards ultimately approved by the state aren't acceptable. However, the lawsuit will be dismissed under the settlement if the alternative standards are acceptable.
The suit was filed in Maricopa County Superior Court in June by the Goldwater Institute on behalf of the five schools: BASIS Tucson, BASIS Scottsdale, Veritas Preparatory Academy in Phoenix, Chandler Preparatory Academy and Mesa Preparatory Academy.
The settlement comes two months after a judge denied the schools' request for an injunction against the social studies mandate. The judge said the schools did not act early enough to launch the legal challenge.