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2:07 AM Tue, Sept. 25th

Top-performing students opting into charters could create academic problems for district schools

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PRESCOTT - For many parents, charter schools add to the list of options when it comes to educational choices for their children.

For others, charter schools can be a cause for concern. Charters such as BASIS, which recently announced plans to open a new school in Prescott next year, place on emphasis on college preparedness and could draw high-performing students from district schools.

Current plans call for the BASIS school to accommodate approximately 800 students, according to local BASIS liaison Emily Dolan.

The new school, for fifth through 10th grades, will likely be located in the area of Willow Lake Road and Prescott Lakes Parkway, school representatives said. By 2016, the school is expected to offer classes for grades five through 12. Enrollment is expected to begin Wednesday, Dec. 4, according to BASIS Vice President of Financial and Corporate Services Jeffrey Houser.

"I think it's important to mention that, in Arizona, we have a unique situation that there's this ability for new schools to begin, which gives way to additional choice," Houser said. "We just believe strongly in what we do and believe that anybody within enough of a distance of a school should have the opportunity to choose what we offer. The reality cuts both ways. District schools also have the opportunity to offer what they believe is very important to offer to students in the way of education and, ultimately, I think everybody wins because there is more selection in the marketplace."

Yavapai County Schools Superintendent Tim Carter called parental choice a "good thing," but said district schools could suffer if top-performing students leave district schools for charter schools.

"The BASIS schools are well regarded and they consistently score extremely high in state rankings, but you would expect that from a charter school whose charter is to focus on advanced placement course work," Carter said. "They appear to cater to the top 5 to 10 percent of traditional school populations. If and when the school opens, history tells us that existing district and charter schools may lose some of their very best students, putting additional stress on both their funding sources and on their overall academic performance."

Funding sources include state dollars paid for every student in the public school system. If a currently enrolled student vacates one school for another school, those dollars follow, Carter said. The same applies to student testing rates, he said.

"If BASIS takes the top 5 percent of each class from various middle and high schools, it will hurt those schools' academic performance on state testing. No doubt about it. The exact numbers remain to be seen," Carter said.

Houser, meanwhile, said it would be hard to determine what the impact to a particular school would be due to shifting student enrollment numbers.

"I think it's fair to say that we would recognize a shift in funding from one (school) to another. That doesn't suggest, however, that there isn't shifting going on in the district schools already and certainly between other charter and private schools in the area," Houser said. "We recognize there is movement between schools already. People do move in and move out of communities, there's the ability for students to select schools and commute to schools, whether it be moving from a district to a private school. By chance, a few years later, they may move back. We see this happening no matter where a school exists."

No student is equal, according to Houser. He said all students, whether top-performing or not, will be accepted in the BASIS school depending upon space.

"This is a school for any student that wants to attend. We give that student everything we have. We believe we bring a unique curriculum, we bring a very high level of student support and we bring teachers that love what they're doing. Those students have equally as much of a chance to succeed as any other student that comes from any program," Houser said. "Students learn how to study in such a way that, by the time they've been with us for the full eight years, they graduate with high success."

The charter, he said, does not remove a student from the school based on their grades.

"BASIS never phases out a student. This is a school of choice. Students arrive because they're attracted to what BASIS has to offer," Houser said. "As a former head of two of the current 12 schools, I can say that BASIS offers the highest level of student support, both academic and environmental."

Follow Patrick Whitehurst on Twitter @pwdcourier.