The New Segregation: School Choice in AZ Takes on a Different Meaning If Your Kid Has a Disability

Categories: Cover Story

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Self-portrait by Sophie
I spotted Jay Heiler from across a crowded Pei Wei on a hot summer night in 2013. It had been years since I'd seen him last, but Heiler hadn't changed a bit, a head or two taller than the other patrons, a boyish wave in his carefully combed blond hair.

I didn't catch his eye, but I knew he'd come over to say hello, because Jay Heiler is one of the most unfailingly polite people I've ever met. Twenty years ago, he was chief of staff to then-Governor J. Fife Symington, and my colleagues and I regularly beat them both up in the pages of New Times. Still, Heiler always returned my calls.

"Amy Silverman?"

I looked up from my chicken and broccoli and smiled.

See also: Up the Down Staircase: A New Times writer tells one family's unique story about life with Down Syndrome, and then shares her own

"Jay Heiler?"

"And this must be Annabelle," he said, remembering the name of my older daughter, almost 12 at the time.

"No, Jay," I said, motioning to the 10-year-old across the table. "This is Sophie."

He took a closer look and for a split second, I thought Heiler might bolt from the table; maybe he'd forgotten that my younger child has Down syndrome. He recovered just as quickly and changed the subject, mentioning that he saw my "Pop" at a golf tournament, wanting to know the gossip at the newspaper.

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Business is going well for you, I observed. He beamed. Yes, he said, Great Hearts Academies, the charter school company he founded after leaving Symington, was doing well, expanding into Texas next.

In many ways, Jay Heiler is the godfather of Arizona's school choice movement. During his time with Symington, he tried unsuccessfully to legalize school vouchers, then championed legislation that ultimately made Arizona the second state in the nation with charter schools.

Now, Arizona has two different kinds of public schools -- "charter" and the traditional "district." And to this day, Arizona's law still is considered one of the friendliest to charter operators. Heiler chairs the Arizona Association of Charter Schools. If anyone knows Arizona charter schools, it's Heiler. And that gave me an idea.

"Hey, Jay, I have a question for you," I said, looking over at Sophie, who was busy shoveling lo mein into her mouth.

In another year, I explained, Sophie will be done with elementary school, and I hope to find just the right fit for her for junior high. She'd been in a district school, but I was open to a charter. And I figured that if anyone would know of the perfect charter school for Sophie, it was Jay Heiler.

Have any suggestions? I asked.

Heiler nodded, not missing a beat. But he didn't mention any charter schools. Instead, he said, he'd heard there were some very good middle schools in the district where Sophie was already going to school.

Then he changed the subject again.


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42 comments
leonardclark
leonardclark

Thank you Mrs. Silverman ! I having been non-violently combatting the use of corporate charter schools for a long while now. You probably already know that Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton along with every democrat on the Phoenix city council have voted unanimously for the last two years along with reich wing extremists like Sal Diciccio to give almost a quarter of a billion dollars (yes...that's right....I said almost a quarter billion dollars) in sweet heart bonding through a lttle known political subdivision of the city of Phoenix called the: Phoenix Industrial Development Authority.


Mayor Stanton is the one who appoints all of these Industrial Development board members. On this board have sat past members like Andrei Cherny and Fred Duval (both of whom recently were recently on the board.)


It might already be to late as the mayor and every member on the Phoenix city council have already layed the ground work through their years of unanimous voting the funding for corporate charter schools all throughout Arizona and especially through the AZ101 corridor.


Below is the video where I testified about their recent approval of over $75,000,000 for another charter school with the sweet heart bonding. 

Thanks again, for your informative article !

Leonard Clark

5-23-14


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zr3ZU1lJFYs

Jamie Kropp
Jamie Kropp

Loved reading this great story that hits so close to home for myself and so many more

Goldie Williams
Goldie Williams

The charter school my son went to gave him a IEP, THEN A 504 PLAN. Then the public school took it away.

angierusch
angierusch

3 words, "Empowerment Scholarship Account." Enough said.

CitizenJKLM
CitizenJKLM

Stay on this story, Ms. Silverman. School "choice" is really all about select, privileged schools getting to decide who they want as students (who they can profit from), and public education will be left with the remainder who are deemed to have a low ROI.

coper1658
coper1658

OK that one is there how about the previous two

Ent18
Ent18

When I tried to get a position as an inclusion facilitator in Phoenix area charter schools, I was flatly told that they do not include students with moderate/severe disabilities.  I was looked at as if I was some sort of alien creature to even propose implementing inclusive practices in a charter school.  Most of the interview panels had general education teachers and they all looked like a group of fawns facing headlights at the mention of inclusion!  They came there to teach for lower pay and with less retirement benefits (if any at all in Arizona) precisely to have smaller class sizes, cooperative parents, less administrative slave holding, and freedom from "those kids". "Isn't that what the resource room is for?"  "We can't afford to hire the related service specialists to include those students."  "We just need someone to help with learning disabilities, you know, in a resource room."  "Co-teaching?   I don't think so.  No, that's not our model."  "As a charter school, we don't have to include those kids."  "Inclusion really doesn't work."  "Don't you think those kids would be better served in a Life Skills program?"  Just a few quotes... 

Courtney Dettinger
Courtney Dettinger

We don't even have charter schools and are STILL fighting for an IEP :(

Sara Rose
Sara Rose

I agree w/ Karen Wang. We had my son w/ AS tested and he was high IQ and gifted, when we attended the open house and dropped his diagnosis the principal immediately responded "we can't accommodate"

whateveryousay
whateveryousay topcommenter

When I was in middle school there was a completely separate school for DD kids.  It is called Esperanza Special Education School.  

Are schools like that a good option?

Leah McRorie
Leah McRorie

Take the word "special" out of education. The word "special" is used to separate and segregate our children. Belonging is a human right!

Christopher John Hamilton
Christopher John Hamilton

Linda Weinert, most of the publicly funded preschools in New York City are charters, so charters funding preschoolers with IEPs is quite common here. What's lacking here are K-12 charter schools with good inclusion settings for students with high support needs. My son attends an excellent charter school for autistic kids, but there should be many more inclusion options available as well.

Karen Wang
Karen Wang

Many charter school principals screen families at open houses and will simply tell parents that their child cannot be accommodated at that school, so those families never even begin the application process.

Clint Mclemore
Clint Mclemore

Why is Education supposed to fit in a Capitalistic agenda? The problem is obviously ...............Funding,.....plain and simple. Carpetbaggers wanting to profit off Public Schools, and why?.. because THEY had to pay for an education......stop the madness.

Karen Underwood
Karen Underwood

There are some good charter schools out there, but we could never take the risk of starting my daughter and having the school "try", then refuse to commit to her. From what I have seen thus far, what the author reports is on the money--and is pretty much a feature,not a bug.

cgbloodgood
cgbloodgood

My daughter with down syndrome attended a charter school in Chicago, il. From the time she was in kindergarten. Although the school did a fine job challenging her academically, it was apparent that they were not a fully inclusive school and did not have the mindset to really integrate her as a part of her school community. Although I am grateful for the many academic gains she made throughout her years there, it saddens me to reflect on how hard it was for the school to truly embrace her presence there. We moved and now have her attending our neighborhood public jr. High but it has not come without many tears And frustration. I just don't understand why is it so difficult for schools to "get it " Good luck. Your writing speaks such simple truths that must no longer he ignored.

Meredith Clevenger
Meredith Clevenger

^ Lance, you couldn't be more wrong. Charter schools are a great option, and help force some public schools to get their acts together because now they are facing competition for the funding they normally receive for students. But there simply has to be more across the board advocacy for special needs kids. Tax payers, not just the families affected by special needs, need to insist on compliance with state and federal laws like IDEA, FAPE, etc.

Meredith Clevenger
Meredith Clevenger

The article is lengthy but very interesting and so relevant. I used to live in Arizona and now live in South Carolina. Arizona is still light years ahead of other states. There are no charter schools here in SC and there is only 2 good, qualified private schools that work with IEP's, Autism, LD and related services. And the public schools here - forget about it. Clueless and so non-compliant and would be here for hours sharing what I have witnessed. It's shameful. We still have a long way to go educating the educators and administrators I'm afraid.

Rita Estrada
Rita Estrada

Exactly Linda. Not just the funding burden with preschoolers, but school districts are also responsible for providing assessments and therapies to students in private school settings. This is why I don't support sharing parcel tax revenue with charter schools.

Linda Weinert
Linda Weinert

Very sad. The author didn't even mention that very costly (maybe $60,000/year) programs for kids with autism legally should start at age 3. I've never heard of a charter school that had to fund an IEP with ABA for a preschooler. This puts a disproportionate funding burden on public schools.

Lance Rommerdahl
Lance Rommerdahl

Another reason for not having charter schools. They are a threat to our way of life.

Erika Hartley
Erika Hartley

Thank God for the Empowerment Scholarship. My two oldest boys have autism, the oldest severe and the middle high functioning, and the public schools we dealt with had no idea how nor a desire to educate them. The charter schools were quickly noted not to be an option. Now they both attend Pieceful Solutions on the Empowerment Scholarship. It has been an absolute blessing for our whole family.

huntersmom28
huntersmom28

"Why would I want my kid to attend a school where she's not wanted? To make a political point?"

Exactly. This is why my oldest son who was not wanted by either Maricopa or Kyrene school district now attends Pieceful Solutions on the Empowerment Scholarship. He was discounted and disregarded because of his severe autism.

My 7 year old attended preschool in Kyrene and at the transition meeting when I discovered the two choices for my high functioning son with autism were a self contained special ed classroom (he had already learned how to create macros on the laptop by watching the Mac tutorial) or a classroom with 1 teacher 35 kindergarteners, no one on one aide and my son, the runner, whom the preschool teacher demanded either my husband or I take off work to accompany on a field trip to the zoo because they couldn't watch him.

We are thankful for the option to send our kids to a school where they are accepted and embraced for who they are, not despite of it. And if the public schools could have found a way to educate them, or perhaps even pretend they wanted to educate them, we wouldn't have looked elsewhere.

Heather Ure Dunagan
Heather Ure Dunagan

The "choice" schools in our school district mostly do not offer "special ed," and if you are 2e and want to go to a general ed. school, good luck, a) getting into the oversubscribed gifted program, and b) being allowed to do both gifted and "special ed" (you really can't be both gifted and Autistic because of "limited resources"). Most private schools in our area, post-elementary school, are reluctant to take a kid with an Autism dx, so guess what, we are starting homeschooling next year in 7th grade. We could sue (on our own dime and our own time), but we really just need to get to work putting together a homeschooling program for our kid. We may get to homeschool *through* a public school curriculum, IF (again) they feel they "have the resources") to support our son, but we've been told they might not.

Laurann Kealiher
Laurann Kealiher

We tried LEP charter HS in Portland or the first week they forgot my son had an IEP then they were only going to offer 1hr of self directed work wtf we left

Rita Estrada
Rita Estrada

Great article and so similar to my experience when I tried to enroll my son with autism at a local charter school.

La Messa Qvo
La Messa Qvo

Hope they dont report on AZDHS and how the disabled are treated. Same with DES

Jenny Davis Bussey
Jenny Davis Bussey

We don't have charter schools in my state and private schools do not have the resources to meet the needs of special needs students. If you live in a district that doesn't meet your child's needs, you either have to sue or move.

Amy Elizabeth Cameron
Amy Elizabeth Cameron

Please check us out: Dynamic Community Charter School in Raleigh, NC. A charter for students with Special Needs.

La Messa Qvo
La Messa Qvo

not bad. Not great considering u followed me on twitter and that's all that was written. Here is a letter

cindermcdonald
cindermcdonald

Been there, done that.  My daughter, who has autism, attended 2 different charter schools from 7th grade - 10th grade.  The first one was arts-oriented, we wanted to support her passion for Art.  7th & 8th grade were good, but the high school was a nightmare.  She was bullied constantly, her IEP was completely disregarded.  Teachers would "forget" to send home field trip permission forms because they didn't want to take her.  The school hired the cheapest psychologist they could find to do her 3 year evaluation and it came back with bizarre results, that she had a low IQ.  We later learned he spent less than an hour testing her - when she wasn't working fast enough for him, he tried to push her and she got frustrated.  


We went to a charter school fair, looking for a new school for her.  Everyone was all  smiles and interest - until we mentioned she had an IEP.  Then they did an about-face and would say that they would have to check to see if they had capacity or suggest that we look elsewhere.


The next charter school we wound up in, wanted her because of the extra funding she brought with her.  They didn't provide any services for any of their special ed kids.  They lied, saying they provided all kinds of services on the IEP.  When they actually got around to having a real live IEP meeting, they made us backdate the document by 6 months,  and when I resisted, they blackmailed me into signing it.

We got her out and put her back in public school.  By then, she was old enough to handle the larger classrooms and ready for transition services.

jshowkeir
jshowkeir

Well done Amy! I must admit to being sad that things haven't progressed further than they have. I have a 28 yr. old daughter with autism, seizure disorder and cognitive impairment from a DPT shot in 1985. We went all the way to Federal district court in MI to get her included in regular class rooms. We won and stayed for 2 more years moving to PV schools where she was also fully included. Glad you are continuing to shine the light.

marcy
marcy

The problem is not funding, never has been.


Do you honestly think people don't "profit" from public schools?  Nobody gets a paycheck from them?  They don't have budgets there? 


If you don't like a capitalistic agenda maybe you can just build schools by holding hands and singing kumbaya.  When that doesn't work you can round up some money and hire a non-profit construction company because you certainly wouldn't want the capitalistic agenda building the school either. 

Ent18
Ent18

Good luck with that...

Ent18
Ent18

Sad, but true...

marcy
marcy

Don't you have to have express a reason for not having charter schools to say something is another reason?  What way of life are you living that is threatened by school choice?


As best I can tell the only threat charter schools represent is to the entrenched, ineffective, one-size-fits-all public school system.


Reggievv
Reggievv

@js. Just had to get that vaccination dig in there, huh? The whole charter movement in Arizona is riddled with conflicts of interest, and "choice" politician making money off the public coffers. The entire charter school and choice movement is a never ending scam. And you found the tip of the resegregation of schools efforts. With plenty of public money flowing to support it.

marcy
marcy

@ConcernedCitizenAZ @Reggievv  


You appear to be the product of a poor public school education.  Your desire that everyone else suffer your fate is sad.

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