Farnsworth: East Valley leading Arizona’s charter school movement

I was born in Mesa and raised in Chandler. My family has deep ties to the East Valley. And I am proud to have launched four charter school campuses in the East Valley.

Eddie Farnsworth

The Benjamin Franklin Charter School opened more than 20 years ago to give parents and students options and to provide a traditional back-to-basics education.

I am proud of the work we have done at our East Valley campuses. We now serve more than 3,000 students, we have a 96 percent graduation rate, and our AzMERIT test scores exceed the state average. In fact, our students test about 20 percentage points higher on average.

Despite these accomplishments the Arizona Republic has decided to target Benjamin Franklin as part of its ongoing war on charter schools. These articles are an attack on school choice, the free market and my personal integrity.

In addition to being the owner of the Benjamin Franklin School I am also proud to serve Arizona as a conservative state lawmaker. The Republic seems to have a problem with these dual roles even though enabling charter school legislation was passed years before I took office; even though I have made several votes against charter schools during my tenure, something they initially failed to report.

Some are taking issue with our school’s transition from for-profit to non-profit status. We are making this transition because it makes sense and because it alleviates property tax and income-tax burdens, as is the case for other charter and district schools.

Non-profit status provides lower financing costs for future buildings. And while I give up control of the school to a non-profit board of directors, I am making this change to ensure its best possible future for years to come. By the way, 95 percent of Arizona charter schools are operating under this model. This transition does not impact my net worth one iota, another item the Republic has misled readers about.

From the start I arranged for the financing of school buildings and operations, and personally assumed substantial financial risk over a more than 20 year period. Unlike traditional schools, we didn’t have the luxury of going to the taxpayers to finance this infrastructure. That risk has been rewarded with great students and parents. And our school, thankfully, is financially sound.

Still, the Republic takes issue with the fact that I will profit from this risk, but the $30 million figure it cited is outrageously inflated and the true number will not be known until additional appraisals and costs are factored in.

We are no different from the suppliers of buses, curriculum, books and contractors of buildings that earn a living doing business with the state. It’s legal. It’s ethical. It’s proper. Eliminate the potential of earning a profit, and you’ve effectively killed the charter school revolution in the East Valley and the rest of Arizona. Perhaps that’s the Republic’s true agenda.

This is not to say there is not room for improvements. But any reform should not be limited to charter schools. It should include any private-sector business contracting with the state for things such as freeways, higher education, or health care. There have been numerous abuses in the K-12 traditional school arena such as those in Scottsdale and Higley.  How much are people making providing goods or services?  Is it too much or not enough?  What are the consequences of curtailing profit or expanding it?

Because of the concerns expressed regarding charter school operators legally making a profit from contracts with the state, I am happy to enter this debate. I would gladly join with anyone, including state leaders and my friends from both sides of the aisle in January, for a comprehensive look and potential legislation, retaining laws and practices where we should and reforming where we must.

In the meantime, I am proud to serve the East Valley as a charter school operator committed to quality education and charter school choice.

State Rep. Eddie Farnsworth



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