Home > Education, Flagstaff Liberty Alliance, FUSD, New Media > Arizona Charter Schools MUST Accept All Students

Arizona Charter Schools MUST Accept All Students

By Elisha Dorfsmith

Comments on the recent BASIS article in the Arizona Daily Sun claim that Charter Schools do not have to accept all students. This rumor has been circulating around Flagstaff for quite some time. Last January, Bruce Johnson addressed this misinformation on another forum. Here it is again for all to read:

Clarification on Charter Schools by Bruce Johnson

Since the comments section of the AZ Daily Sun online is limited to 500 characters, I’d like to take this opportunity to clarify something that is often repeated by fans of FUSD with respect to Charter Schools.

As a response to Ms Bowen’s letter, one writer said ….

“The problem is, charter schools don’t have to take ANY student…they can literally pick and choose so of course they can handle their budgets better. Charter schools don’t have to teach learning disabled kids, or ANY disabled kids, or kids with behavioral problems or ADHD kids or homeless kids or kids with chronic diseases or any of those things. Public schools MUST teach EVERY kind of child and that’s why they have greater budget issues”.


This is absolutely false.

Here is the entire statute that guides admission to Charter Schools. Read for yourself. Notice the reference in paragraph B to admission of students with “disabling conditions”. It is quite unfortunate that the defenders of district schools continue to believe and repeat such falsehoods.


15-184. Charter schools; admission requirements A. A charter school shall enroll all eligible pupils who submit a timely application, unless the number of applications exceeds the capacity of a program, class, grade level or building. A charter school shall give enrollment preference to pupils returning to the charter school in the second or any subsequent year of its operation and to siblings of pupils already enrolled in the charter school. A charter school that is sponsored by a school district governing board shall give enrollment preference to eligible pupils who reside within the boundaries of the school district where the charter school is physically located. A charter school may give enrollment preference to and reserve capacity for pupils who are children of employees of the school, employees of the charter holder, members of the governing body of the school or directors, officers, partners or board members of the charter holder. If remaining capacity is insufficient to enroll all pupils who submit a timely application, the charter school shall select pupils through an equitable selection process such as a lottery except that preference shall be given to siblings of a pupil selected through an equitable selection process such as a lottery.

B. Except as provided in subsection C or D, a charter school shall not limit admission based on ethnicity, national origin, gender, income level, disabling condition, proficiency in the English language or athletic ability.

C. A charter school may limit admission to pupils within a given age group or grade level.

D. A charter school may provide instruction to pupils of a single gender with the approval of the sponsor of the charter school. An existing charter school may amend its charter to provide instruction to pupils of a single gender, and if approved by the sponsor of the charter school, may provide instruction to pupils of a single gender at the beginning of the next school year.

E. A charter school shall admit pupils who reside in the attendance area of a school or who reside in a school district that is under a court order of desegregation or that is a party to an agreement with the United States department of education office for civil rights directed toward remediating alleged or proven racial discrimination unless notice is received from the resident school that the admission would violate the court order or agreement. If a charter school admits a pupil after notice is received that the admission would constitute such a violation, the charter school is not allowed to include in its student count the pupils wrongfully admitted. F. A charter school may refuse to admit any pupil who has been expelled from another educational institution or who is in the process of being expelled from another educational institution.


  1. Ken
    April 5, 2011 at 11:53 am

    This is good information, but it might not give a complete (or accurate) picture; it’s a bit like me arguing that I don’t steal because, clearly, stealing is against the law. We should examine the actual numbers–what percent of the student body receives services for either special education or as an English Language Learner, factoring out those students who receive services solely for non-academic disabilities, such as speech/language therapy. I have my suspicions as to what the numbers might suggest, but I could be wrong.

  2. April 5, 2011 at 10:32 pm

    Your analogy doesn’t work for me. If I steal and don’t get caught, nobody notices. If a charter school turns down a student for a learning disability they get slapped with a lawsuit.

  3. Ken
    April 6, 2011 at 6:39 am

    So look at the numbers, Elisha. You’re still arguing that it doesn’t happen because it couldn’t; I’m saying to see if it does. One of the things that distinguishes you from other bloggers is your dogged reliance on data-based assessments; apply the same standard here. On this issue, any comparison between public and charter schools is unfair–and probably inaccurate–unless you do so.

  4. April 6, 2011 at 7:26 am

    Thanks Ken. To be perfectly honest, I’m having a problem coming up with any kind of data. I don’t think enough studies have been done in Arizona. Studies in other states won’t count because some states do allow charters to pick and choose. I will keep looking and if I find something I will post it here.

    In the meantime, if anybody reading this has tried to put their student in a charter school and been turned down because their child has a disability, please let me know. I’ll do everything I can to help pressure that charter school to comply with state law.

    • Ken
      April 6, 2011 at 12:58 pm

      Actually, here’s a link to a Department of Ed report on a BASIS school in Tuscon:


      One percent language learners, one percent special needs. In a school of 246 students, that’s about three (or two normal-sized students and a dwarf). It’s also less than 10% of what the local school district works with.

      If it sounds like I’m trying to make excuses for FUSD, I’m not. I’m just suggesting that the comparison between BASIS and FUSD based solely on one set of numbers isn’t accurate.

    • Joshua
      July 12, 2013 at 4:50 pm

      There is a new school in Anthem that is part of the ALA that has refused enrollment to my nephew because their “special ed program is full.” My nephew is mildly autistic and has a current IEP. My brother was told his other children could be enrolled without a problem but their child with an IEP will be put on a wait list for when a special ed position opens up.

  5. April 7, 2011 at 1:03 am

    OK, here’s a question, do you think BASIS is turning away kids with learning disabilities or do parents believe the lie that charter schools don’t accept students with learning disabilities so they don’t try to send their kids there? Are you blaming BASIS and charter schools in general? The fact that they have special needs and language learner students means that they obviously are not turning them away.

  6. April 7, 2011 at 6:58 am

    Here’s a solution that FUSD may want to try. Instead of perpetuating the lie that charter schools do not accept students with learning disabilities, why not run ads saying that charter schools are required by law to accept students with learning disabilities. When parents of students with learning disabilities start pulling their kids out of the district and sending them to charter schools, lawyers can be standing by to ensure that the transition is smooth and that the charters follow the law. Everybody wins (except maybe FUSD who loses even more students).

  7. April 7, 2011 at 9:22 pm

    Elisha, I’ve gone back and tried to find where I said or suggested that charters are turning any students away; I can’t find it. Maybe you’re thinking of someone else.

    I’m not blaming anyone for anything, either; I’m glad they’re there. If anything, I’d like to see *more* school options for people, even if it puts my district job in jeopardy. The only point that I’m making is that comparing a charter and a public school based on AIMS results is erroneous.

    As far as why there may be a smaller per capita population of special needs students (and there might not be, although this is consistent with my limited experience with local charters), I can’t answer with any confidence; I don’t know enough about BASIS. If students who cannot keep up with the rigorous curriculum have to leave, then I think that that would weed out many (but not all) students with IEPs. Certainly students whose parents want to change schools have more supportive families, contributing to greater likelihood of school success.

    Or maybe the Department of Ed report is erroneous. I really can’t say.

    You’ll have to show me where FUSD has made the claim that you suggest; I’ve heard it from people, but not from the district.

  8. April 8, 2011 at 7:19 am

    To answer your last question first, The claim was made many times on the FUSD Facebook page by teachers and staff. Not once did board president Kulpinski or any other board member who posted there correct the information or agree with me when I pointed to state law. It was also brought up several times during the override campaign by the PAC who was supporting the override.

    I may have misunderstood you when you suggested that saying charter schools legally cannot turn special needs students away is like saying people are not legally allowed to steal. I thought you were suggesting that charters, like people who steal, have no regard for the law.

    I’m glad you don’t think charters are turning kids away. The idea is still being promoted by FUSD supporters including Rick Krug who said the following to me the other day:

    “BUT remember, charter schools don’t spend money on transportation and don’t take special ed students. So comparing public to charter is not really that fair.”

    As far as the AIMS testing goes, I agree with you. I’m not a huge fan of these standardized tests in the first place. I think a big reason charter students do better is the parent factor. Parents of charter school students are much more involved. After all, it takes involved parents to take the initiative in the first place to enroll their kids in a charter school.

    As for BASIS having a rigorous curriculum that leaves special needs students behind, I got the impression from the BASIS presentations I attended that BASIS will tweak their curriculum to fit the needs of their students. They have a whole philosophy of turning weaknesses into strengths and finding ways for individual students to succeed.

  9. Janet
    October 1, 2011 at 11:24 pm

    If Charter Schools don’t take ‘special ed students than I give up! I don’t know what to do. I am raising my granddaughter and I am looking for a charter school who will take her. I disagree with what the public school’s idea is to do next I thought the right Charter School/right teacher would help. Her IEP is dated and I am afraid of accepting a new one. I am also afraid of showing it to any school. My grand-daughter has been in specials since kindergarden. The behavor of the ‘specials’ classroom is all she knows. In my opinion, she acts like them. I say that because she does not behave like that anywhere else. I believe the teacher in the classroom sees her in one way. As if she has a reputation and that reputation (IEP) is what will follow her forever! So finding any school willing to take her will be difficult. I am sadden that her teacher will hot even consider any information I can contribute in understanding this child, after all, I do live with her.

  10. October 2, 2011 at 9:19 pm

    Hi Janet, by law, Arizona charter schools have to accept special ed students. If an Arizona charter school turns you down based on your child’s special needs you have the law on your side and you can demand that they take accept your child.

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  1. April 11, 2011 at 10:32 am

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