Arizona long has been a frontrunner in promoting school choice. Twenty-two years after the Arizona Legislature authorized open enrollment, charter schools, and three tax-credit programs, Arizona parents have many options to choose the school that best fits their children.
National School Choice Week, Jan. 24 to Jan. 30, focused on all those options from public district and charter schools to private schools, online learning and homeschooling.
Nationwide, about 16,140 events celebrated school choice. The rally at the Arizona State Capitol Friday on Jan. 29 was one of them.
Making this year’s event unique was the participation this year by Arizona public school districts, presenting their schools and their accomplishments. The families of eight out of 10 Arizona students choose district schools.
Previous School Choice Weeks events in Arizona have focused on charter and private school choice.
“When we first heard about National School Choice Week, we felt that our school district is a school district of choice,” said Dr. Myriam Roa-Reifers, superintendent of Phoenix Elementary School District.
AZEdNews Video by Claire Roney: “Choosing your public school is actually a choice”
The Arizona School Boards Association, a private, non-profit organization with a membership that includes all of Arizona’s public school districts, facilitated and encouraged school district participation in this year’s event, and also became the first state school boards association in the nation to officially partner with National School Choice Week organizers.
“What an amazing first National School Choice Week this was for ASBA and public school advocates that had events throughout the week, culminating on Friday at the Capitol Rally,” said Janice Palmer, director of governmental relations and public affairs for Arizona School Boards Association.
Slideshow by Heidi Vega: AZ School choice rally at capitol, Photos Mike Barcia/ASBA
“It was truly moving to hear from Karine Rodriquez, a student at North High’s IB program in the Phoenix Union High School District talk about her passion for education and commitment to be an engineer, as well as Christine Marsh, 2016 Teacher of the Year from Chaparral High in the Scottsdale Unified School District talking about her pride in being a public school teacher and thanking all teachers for the work they do,” Palmer said.
“It was great to see districts participate. Washington Elementary, Vail Unified, Tucson Unified, Phoenix Elementary, Fowler Elementary, Creighton Elementary, Maricopa, Cave Creek, Scottsdale, and Mesa were all out in force,” Palmer said.
Dr. Roa-Reifers shares what many other parents, teachers and school board members feel for their district schools: Pride.
Despite law that allows open enrollment between districts and successful efforts within many school districts to differentiate the educational options their schools provide, local districts schools have not been considered part of the choice movement.
“I think the big message is that it’s important that parents consider their options, it’s important that they make their choice, but I think it’s also important that our policymakers recognize that choices come in lots of different stripes and lots of different colors, and one of them is attending traditional public schools,” said David Garcia, associate professor in the division of educational leadership and innovation at Arizona State University.
In Arizona, 85.1 percent of K-12 students attend public district schools and 14.9 percent attend charter schools, according to the Annual Report of the Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Fiscal Year 2014-15, released in January 2016.
In addition to focusing on opportunities, many attendees representing local district schools were also celebrating outcomes. “The details are, the data is, that given equal opportunities we have the same outcomes and sometimes better outcomes,” Jan Nichols, a rally attendee speaking about district public schools, said.
In addition to the celebration at the Capitol, districts that participated in School Choice Week also spread the word about the unique learning environments they offer with parent information and future freshmen nights as well as family math and reading nights.
For school districts, the timing was good, since this is they accept variance forms for open enrollment for the upcoming school year from students not living within school or district boundaries, and when they start to register children for kindergarten.
“What I would like parents and community members to recognize is that public schools are not failing,” Christine Marsh, an 11th and 12th grade Advanced Placement (AP) English teacher at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale Unified School District. Marsh has taught English at Chaparral for 23 years, and was named Arizona Educational Foundation’s 2016 Arizona Teacher of the Year.