Dozens of for-profit charter schools in Arizona were stung by news earlier this year that they would be denied federal funding intended to help poor and special-needs students. Many such students attend the 53 for-profit charters now operating in the state.
Although Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard issued an opinion last year challenging the U.S. Department of Education rule, a federal-court judge last week upheld it. This is a ruling that cries out for an appeal.
For-profit educational institutions have been receiving federal funding for decades. Most are colleges that long have enrolled students receiving federal grants or loans or who are furthering their education under the GI Bill.
Setting a double standard for aid to students at the elementary and secondary school level is inconsistent and unfair.
As Mary Ellen Simonson, an attorney who represents several Arizona for-profit charters, told Capitol Media Services' Howard Fischer, all students at these schools likely will be hurt by the ruling because charters by law must accept all who apply, regardless of special needs that may require additional services. It's conceivable some of the schools will go out of business.
Arizona long has encouraged educational options for families as a way to ensure every child has the opportunity to attend the school his or her parents believe is best, and also as a way to improve public-school quality through competition. The policy has yielded 375 charter schools that offer a broad range of curricula targeting various interests, talents and special needs. While most are private, non-profit schools, others are operated by private for-profit companies and still others are operated by school districts. Arizona also provides a tax credit for donations to private- and religious-school scholarship funds to further expand educational options.
Government funding for education ideally should follow each child, with parents picking the school. Since this is a policy also embraced by President Bush, this discriminatory rule by his Department of Education is puzzling and disappointing.
If a higher court won't strike down the rule, Congress should act, and Arizona's congressional delegation should lead the effort.