Republican proposal for public school takeovers moving through state legislature

A new pro-charter school bill is gaining momentum in the Arizona House of Representatives


Gage Skidmore

State Representative Michelle Udall speaking with attendees at the 2022 Legislative Forecast Luncheon hosted by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry at Chase Field in Phoenix.

According to one study, less than three percent of Arizona’s wealth is funneled toward improving K-12 public education. A new measure coursing through the state House of Representatives has a radical method of addressing this disparity, but it is not popular with all audiences.

Rep. Michelle Udall is sponsoring House Bill 2808 and shepherding the proposal through committee. Udall, a Republican and former Mesa School Board member, has sold HB 2808 as a way “to have no more D and F schools” in the state of Arizona.

“The goal is to have only high-achieving schools in the state…so that every child can attend a school that is high quality and get the education they deserve,” Udall said last month.

However, Save Our Schools Arizona is among the unconvinced.

The organization ranks stopping HB2808’s progression as “among its top priorities,” and described it in a newsletter published Monday as “a punitive school takeover bill that would harm students by targeting schools in low-income communities.” SOS Arizona’s position is that HB2808 “threatens school takeovers by in-state and out-of-state charter companies, with no accountability for the hundreds of millions of dollars it would give those private operators.”

HB2808 would commission a body known as the Arizona Achievement District, which is comprised exclusively of district or charter schools deemed “high-performing.” A governor-selected nine-member panel would be responsible for selecting these high-performing institutions. This body would receive $58 million in funding and have the ability to replace a K-12 school with a “Fresh Start” school should the former not independently improve academic performance within a three-year span.

Alternatively, the worse-performing school could partner with a higher-performing institution, but the school performing better would be in charge of operations. The “nuclear options” include closing and consolidating or a complete shutdown.

Essentially, HB2808 would give Arizona governor Doug Ducey (or his successor), through the Arizona Achievement District panel, the power to invite out-of-state corporations to take over schools viewed as performing inadequately. And disproportionately, the proposed measure would harm the state’s public schools.

Throughout his governorship, Ducey has touted “school choice.”  Like many of his GOP colleagues, he has shown favoritism toward charter and private schools. Not coincidentally, Ducey’s sons all attended Brophy College Preparatory, a highly-exclusive Jesuit-affiliated academy in Phoenix. While the governor trumpeted the achievements of Arizona’s charter schools in January, the state legislature came close to denying K-12 public schools more than $1 billion before that measure was ultimately rubber-stamped late last month.

Arizona has one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the United States, and the U.S. Census Bureau found the state’s per-pupil spending is the country’s third-lowest — higher than only Utah and Idaho.

HB2808 is not yet slated for a full vote on the House floor. But if it passes the state House, the proposal will move to the state Senate for further deliberation and a possible vote.