National Charter Schools Week

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The week of May 1 through 7 is National Charter School Week. We’ll hear from Leah Fregulia of the Arizona School for the Arts, a Phoenix Charter School, and Jim Hall, founder of Arizonans for Charter School Accountability.

Video: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of Arizona PBS. Members of your PBS station. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Good evening, welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Work continues on the state budget with House and Senate giving preliminary approval to a $9.5 billion spending plan. The deal includes delay in policy changes that would have cut over $20 million from public district and charter schools. It includes an $8 million tax cut for businesses, doubling to 16 million in 2018. They agreed to expand the state Supreme Court and also approved a bill pushed by house speaker Gowan that allowss developers to benefit from special tax districts. Effort to restore Kids Care for low income families is not in the budget plan, which means Arizona looks to remain the only state in the nation that does not participate in the children's health insurance program.

Ted Simons: Former Arizona gubernatorial candidate and go daddy executive Christine Jones announced she's running for the seat vacated by Matt salmon.

Ted Simons: This is national charter school week. Arizona is a pioneer and continued leader in the movement. Tonight we look at the state of the state's charter schools from two differing perspectives. Welcome Leah Fregulia of the Arizona school for the arts, a Phoenix charter school, and Jim hall, founder of Arizonans for charter school accountability. What is a charter school?

Leah Fregulia: a charter school is a public school. It's privately owned but publicly funded. It's also established originally to create a space for innovation within education and also to raise student achievement. With a school like Arizona school for the arts our specialty is arts.

Ted Simons: how does it differ from a traditional public school?

Leah Fregulia: I think the private ownership is the piece that is the most differing. We're our own local education agency within the school. We are privately owned. We have our own governing board and we receive public funds to innovate.

Ted Simons: are charter schools nonprofits?

Jim Hall: They are both. They are for profit corporations, own charter schools. They typically form nonprofit organizations that run the school then the for profit corporation manages the school. Charters schools are very, very different than public schools in Arizona.

Ted Simons: give me the difference.

Jim Hall: The state laws for charter schools are completely different than they are for public schools. The board, for example, the charter schools only has to make policy. They don't have to deal with anything to do with facilities or personnel. That's usually done at the corporation level. A charter board doesn't do it. Charter schools have very few requirements. They are not reported. They make very few reports in fact owner general doesn't follow charter schools. The auditor general follows spending of every agency in the state but not charter schools?

Leah Fregulia: Well, I can speak for my own experience and what I know from the movement that I have been involved in in the last 20 years. There are a few accountabilities similar to what regular school districts do. Our board is the governing board and corporate board. They review policies, yes, set and review policies but they are also fiscally and legally responsible fort corporation. We are a 501C3 nonprofit. We submit our audit yearly. They review it. If we're not in compliance fiscally money can be withheld from the state, our state funding can be withheld.

Ted Simons: So the state does in some way oversee charter schools.

Leah Fregulia: Indeed.

Jim Hall: But the problem is they do turn in an audit but the audit is strictly used to decide whether or not it's a viable business. It looks at cash flow, cash reserves. It doesn't look at how they are spending at all, so a public school, spending for administration is very closely tracked as you see in the paper. We don't even track charter schools because the auditor general doesn't compile the data on charter schools. No one does. The charter board only uses this audit simply to see if they are a viable business.

Ted Simons: should there be more oversight in terms of academic progress and other areas not necessarily fiscally oriented?

Leah Fregulia: Well, there are. There are student performance measures. The state testing we're accountable for. We take the national nape test periodically as one of the public schools. We also have a manager framework that we're accountable for. There are several layers. We have five-year reviews and every year we submit our audit. Would I say our budget is a public matter. Anyone can go in and take a look at how we utilize our money.

Ted Simons: ring true to you?

that's right. The problem no one examines their expenditures. They turn in an annual financial report that no one reads. The school district turns it in and the auditor goes through it with a fine tooth comb.

Ted Simons: What would you like to see from charter schools for better accountability or in general? What are you looking for?

Jim Hall: Our main concern is lack of accountability and transparency. There's so many things we don't know. We really can't find out how much the CEO makes a lot of times because again it's buried in the corporate framework. When they make the decision at the corporate level those are not open meetings and we can't attend those. The meetings we can attend, Leah runs a great school, by the way. Their board meetings are like regular school but most aren't. Most when you go to the board meetings the decisions are made at the corporate level or at the board level and those are not open to the public meeting laws so we can't attend and we don't track how charter schools spends money.

Ted Simons: are those valid, not necessarily with your school we have heard good reports there. Over all are those valid criticisms?

Leah Fregulia: well, I believe that open meeting law is part of our responsibility for all charter schools, and the way that I understand it we go through board training every year in which open meeting law is part of our responsibility. So I'm not exactly sure what Jim is speaking of because I know that as far as we're concerned as a corporation and as a governing board we must conduct open meetings. And publish our minutes.

Jim Hall: but the corporate board -- the corporate board doesn't have to have open meetings. The governing boards when they meet to discuss salaries and hiring that's not open to public meeting laws therefore we don't have access to. That the only meeting we're allowed to attend is a school board meeting. Only thing they have to do by state law is set policy. The large corporate ones that's all they do, decide what the visitor policy is and they never discuss facilities or hiring or anything like that.

Ted Simons: as far as charter schools and students accepted I have heard for years they can refuse to accept some students, they can draw the line where traditional public schools can't do that. Is that a valid criticism?

Leah Fregulia: charter school law clearly states there has to be an open enrollment process that is either lottery or first come first serve. We basically pick names out of the hat. If you win the lottery you're coming to ASA, whether or not you're coming from an under-served background, special Ed student, whether you have an interest in prep pairing for college if your name is drawn you have access to that education.

Ted Simons: Agree to that?

Jim Hall: hundreds of charter schools have no special Ed children. I think what happens is the charter school will tell them they don't have a special Ed program and they may be better served to go to the local school. The way the good academic schools do is they have students stringent requirements that children are unable to attends. So children in basis for example have to pass high school algebra in 7th grade. If they can't they are retained until they do so they have high attrition because of that. That's the way they weed kids out.

Ted Simons: over all the state of charter schools in Arizona now, how can they improve in the future?

Leah Fregulia: well, I do believe the accountability is a big part of what we are here to respond to. We need to do that. I think that no matter where you go in public education there are some very, very good schools and some schools that need to improve. I think we can do better in public education as a whole as finding out what's going right and what's going wrong and improving those schools that need to be brought up. That applies to charter schools equally with other public schools.

Ted Simons: you agree with that?

Jim Hall: Absolutely. All I want is just examine the way charter schools expend money. There's 27 in the state that spends more on both their facilities and administration than they do on kids in the classroom including all the instructional support. We don't know that because the auditor general doesn't examine the data. Someone needs to examine that data.

Ted Simons: good conversation. Thanks for joining us.

Jim Hall: Thank you.

Video: along state route 80 in southeast Arizona is the town of tombstone. Two miles west at the ends of a dusty road stands a monument to its founder, prospector Ed Schieffelin. In 1878, Schieffelin so the witches in the untamed millennium mountains despite being warned the only thing he would find there was his tombstone. Schieffelin cheated death and discovered several rich Silver strikes that start add boom and established the town. By the 1880s it was the County seat filled with wild and colorful characters whose escapades were chronic willed in what is now Arizona's oldest continuously publish up in, the epitaph. The boom had ended by the mid 1890s. Over the following decades it transformed itself into a town Ed wouldn't recognize by turning legends of its lurid past into tourist gold and bill itself as the town too tough to die. Tonight's edition of Arizona giving and leading look at how some nonprofits manage to continue operations for years and even decades. First we look at one local nonprofit that has been around for 30-plus years. It started as a chance to fulfill one Arizona boy's dream of becoming a police officer. 35 years later the make-a-wish foundation is one of the most successful in the country. Allysa Adams gives us a look at their secret to longest.

Video: When you're a child limited only by your imagination, wishes can come true. You can be a police officer, build a playground, be a fashion designer.

Jayne Bowman: It's what I have wanted to be since I was five years old.

Meg Bowman: she would take a notebook and draw princess gowns. She would improve upon them and she was a good artist. I thought she would grow out of that and she never did.

Video: Jane kept drawing, kept creating, and carefully orchestrated a plan for her life as a fashion designer. But her body didn't always follow the plan.

Meg Bowman: She has partial complex seizures, so she wasn't able to go to school. She had a lot of issues with medications at first so she was in and out of the hospital for that.

Video: The seizures just kept getting in the way of Jane's life. One step forward, then a seizure, two steps back.

Meg Bowman: She just slowly regressed more and more as the seizures were getting worse. That was really hard to watch your child who is so bright, who just can't figure things out any more.

Video: But through the tangle of her illness Jane never put down her pencil. Those princess dresses, they were always there.

Jayne Bowman: Once inspiration pops I try as fast as I can to get it down so I don't forget it.

Meg Bowman: Is this comfortable?

Jayne Bowman: Yes.

Video: On this night, Jane gets to be a princess. One with a designer's notebook.

Jayne Bowman: I have the earrings too.

Video: For the past six months Jane has worked with designers and seamstresses to create her own line of clothes. Now those designs will debut on the runway for a charity auction.

Jayne Bowman: Dress one, Dress two, dress three, dress four.

Jayne Bowman: Jane is one of thousands of kids whose dreams grow out of gray pencil to visit realty thanks for the make-a-wish foundation.

Elizabeth Reich: it's an organization. We have 62 chapters in the United States. We have 35 affiliates around the world. We reach 38 countries.

Video: for 35 years this organization that managed the emotional ups and downs.

Elizabeth Reich: last year we granted over 14,000 wishes, which is a wish every 37 minutes. It all started right here. In Arizona.

Video: The smiles and occasional tears have stayed predictably consistent at make a wish, but some things have changed.

Elizabeth Reich: When the organization first started in 1980 it was only for terminally ill children. We now grant wishes to children who are between 2.5 and 18 years of age with a life-threatening medical condition.

Video: every year the organization that grown in order to grant more wishes. They get no government funding and rely solely on philanthropy from individuals, foundations and corporations.

Elizabeth Reich: We have to make sure we do our job very, very well or people won't have confidence in us and won't feel it's a good investment.

Video: the charity gets high ratings from watch dog groups for their transparency and accountability. Their name carries weight.

Elizabeth Reich: make a wish is consistently one of the most respected brands in the United States. We do a good job.

Video: each wish costs an average of $8,000. How the organization raises that money has changed over the years.

Meg Bowman: You really have to do it all. The data shows that people of different age groups give differently, responds differently.

Video: but make a wish still has their greatest success with the tried and true. Balls, corporate campaigns and walks. Still, soliciting donations isn't their main motivation.

Video: Where would you want to see a sea turtle?

Video: each child gets just one wish in their lifetime. So they better get it right.

Elizabeth Reich: And when our volunteers go to meet the children and learn about the children, they spends as much time talking to them about why they would want the wish as to what the wish is.

Elizabeth Reich: Another key to make a wish's long term success, a seemingly endless group of volunteers.

Video: That's good. I like that.

Video: For Jane's wish makeup artists, models and professional designers helped her turn her drawings into the real thing.

Video: Any particular poses you want us to do?

Video: No.

Meg Bowman: Everyone has been touched by this wish. For me that's probably the greatest thing. I don't think that what the children choose is their wishes matters as much as what they dream of and showing them that they can accomplish anything.

Video: even the dreams that start long ago with simple princess drawings.

Jayne Bowman: I feel happy. Because I'm doing what I love.

Ted Simons: Joining us to talk about the longest of nonprofits is Jacky Alling, chief philanthropy officer of the Arizona Community Foundation, and max Gonzales, vice president of strategy and relationship management of Chicanos por la causa. Good to have you both here. What makes a nonprofit a long-lasting success?

Jacky Alling: Well, can I just say that it's a very diverse sector. So to talk about as a monolithic nonprofits can be all volunteer run with budgets under $250,000. The majority of Arizona nonprofits are lower budget, to a very sophisticated health care nonprofit that is 10 million plus in terms of operating budget. I just want to set that. It's complex. What we do see are some critical success factors that run across all of those sizes and shapes and sectors that lend itself to longest.

Ted Simons: let's start with structure. I have read nonhierarchical?

Jacky Alling: What we're seeing now is diffused leadership is more responsive. It empowers employees. They feel ownership. They bring mortal events to bear. CPLC is very brave in this manner and was doing some of that diffused leadership before a lot of other nonprofits were. I think that's a good trend.

Ted Simons: diffuse leadership is much easier to say. This idea that the strong leader my way or the highway thing, is that a good thing for a long-lasting nonprofit?

Max Gonzalez: Actually we try to push the decisions to the lowest level as we can because the decisions get made quicker and empower staff and frankly leads to long term happiness. In fact we have instituted a few creative models. We use a program called the four disciplines of execution which is a proven model to try to get people to execute so that they align ultimately with the over all strategy, the organization. But it gets them to do what is important. They identify what is important and they are able to execute to that.

Ted Simons: Another issue that I looked at that seemed like it could be a factor is the idea that the nonprofit if it's serving a specific community or specific need, having people involved even leading the nonprofit with experience in that community and with experience in that need.

Max Gonzalez: yes, you know, understanding of the community is really, really key. By that I mean we have been around for 50 years, but the Hispanic community over the last 50 years has evolved dramatically. It's not the same. When we first started back in the '60s and the movement began the Latino community was largely a Mexican American community. I mean U.S. born Mexican descent. We were looking at civil rights issues. That's what CPLC was founded on. Eventually as the community started to evolve, the Latino community, we started to get more immigrants. Back in the '80s, in Mexico, it started to encourage and create immigration really en masse, we started to see our community change. We started to get more of an immigrant population, so we had to change to meet the needs of that community.

Ted Simons: that ability to change, to be flexible, that's the nature of a long-lasting anything.

Jacky Alling: Nimbleness is absolutely key and being resilient and able to adjust. You look at the economic downturn that happened, the nonprofit sector was growing rapidly in Arizona at that time. It really did cause a lot of nonprofits to have to relook at their business models, think about collaborating more, possibly merging with other like nonprofits. Those were the ones who had the long term view and the innovation, those were the ones that really did survive. I do think as hard as it was having that long term view created a stronger sector. That's what we're dealing with now.

what we also did with that, leads to the strength of CPLCs, we have a board comprised of both corporate and community members. That's by design. The corporate gives us the strong input to make our business run efficiently but the community members really give us the sense of being grounded, making us hold true to our mission.

Ted Simons: You mention mission. The idea of having a clear inspirational, strong mission statement, whatever it might be, not waivering. Being strong. Is that a factor?

Max Gonzalez: absolutely. CPLC really hasn't changed. We changed the words a bit but at the end of the day it's about economic empowerment, economic and political empowerment, making sure our constituents have the opportunity to live the American dream. That can come through the political process or just getting an education, living in affordable housing, et cetera.

Video: Defining a theory of change and sticking to it.

Jacky Alling: Yes. Yes. But also having the balance. Being able to respond to the environment. I like what max was talking about because to think entrepreneurially people have a mindset about the nonprofit sector is big charity, give us grants and foundation grants, support, but really our nonprofits now, the successful ones, they are getting the majority of their revenue for fee for service, new business drivers, thinking entrepreneurially. It's less of a charity mind set. Charity still plays a big role, but it's a business.

Ted Simons: That goes into diversifying funding sources, doesn't it?

Jacky Alling: Absolutely.

Ted Simons: That's a prerequisite.

Jacky Alling: absolutely. It takes some innovation to be able to think beyond the traditional means of revenue, et cetera, in the sector.

Ted Simons: and that involves taking risks, does it not?

Max Gonzalez: Absolutely it takes risk. The entrepreneurial business mind set that you have, having a board that understands that you have to take risks to be successful. Not everything that CPLC has done aha been a home run but we have had enough we're still here.

Ted Simons: let's talk about those that weren't home runs. The willingness to admit failure. I got to think if you're strong enough to say that didn't work, let's get it out of here, makes for a long-lasting nonprofit.

Max Gonzalez: you have to have the exit strategy but also the learning afterwards. What did we do wrong? We don't want to pass down this path again.

Ted Simons: recognizing failure, learning from failure. Got to be a part of it.

Jacky Alling: It has to be. As a matter of fact when we speak with our nonprofit partners and we do think about our work in the community as a partnership with the nonprofit sector, if everything is 100% check check, it's not genuine. We want to hear about the failures, celebrate some of them. Sometimes you get really good thinking from what went wrong.

Ted Simons: absolutely.

Max Gonzalez: that goes into self-criticism, which has to be there.

Max Gonzalez: we have to have candid conversation. We have those internally. The other part she's talking about that I think is important is understanding what funders are looking for to maintain the revenue streams. You really have to maintain those relationships. What is your funder trying to get out of it? It's not only seeing clients but did the client make the change in behavior to make that positive change in the community.

Ted Simons: All right, very interesting conversation. Are you seeing more nonprofits lasting longer these days?

Jacky Alling: I think that we're seeing a lot of changes in the nonprofit sector, and there's less of a difference between corporate nonprofit and governmental. I think those sectors have blurred. You have corporations now that are benefit corporations. Those partnerships are different. We talked about this, Ted, the Arizona nonprofit economic vitality study talks about nonprofits as a major economic driver.

Ted Simons: all right, you got that in. Notice that?

Jacky Alling: that's another segment all together.

Ted Simons: Good to have you both here. Thanks for joining us. That's it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Video: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of Arizona PBS, members of your PBS station. Thank you

Leah Fregulia: Arizona School for the Arts, a Phoenix Charter School,Jim Hall: Founder of Arizonans for Charter School Accountability

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