When the Goldwater Institute recently recruited attorney candidates from out of state, I was able to use a lure I never would have thought possible: Arizona has the best public schools in the country.

Not all or even most of Arizona public schools, of course, qualify for that accolade. But an increasing number do, for one simple reason: Arizona has a higher percentage of public charter schools than any other state. Run by private entities, subject to fewer regulations, and union-free, many Arizona charter schools are excelling and all are injecting much-needed competition and innovation into the public school market.

Newsweek recently ranked BASIS-Scottsdale and Tucson as two of the top five public high schools in the U.S. — and the only two of the top five without selective admissions.

Despite the fact that charter schools account for about one-quarter of all Arizona public schools, eight of the top 10 public high schools are charter schools based on AIMS math and reading scores, and nine of the top 10 in science. Zero of the 10 worst schools are charters.

Charter schools receive roughly $1,600 less in per-pupil public funding than regular public schools, but they spend it where it counts: in the classroom. Contrast that with regular public schools, which since 1950 have experienced seven times more administrative growth than student growth, according to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

Meanwhile, school districts are responding to intensified competition by creating more specialized schools and innovative services. The middle school nearest my home recently displayed a banner proclaiming “Core Knowledge Coming in 2013” — which is little wonder when three top-performing charter schools nearby use that very same curriculum.

Today, 14 percent of all Arizona public school students attend charter schools. Yet 60 percent of charter schools have waiting lists, indicating still-unmet need. Greater transparency and increased choice in both the public and private sectors are expanding educational opportunities for Arizona’s schoolchildren like never before — and not a moment too soon.

 

• Clint Bolick is litigation director of the Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation.

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