A Response from Eddie Farnsworth

Eddie Farnsworth Responds to Craig Harris' Arizona Republic Article

There’s More to Our Charter School Story and More Work to Do for Arizona

by Eddie Farnsworth

This is Eddie Farnsworth's response to the Arizona Republic article by Craig Harris

I believe Arizona’s charter schools are one of the state’s great success stories. Test scores suggest as much as do national and state rankings.

I am a conservative Republican. I believe in school choice and the help it can provide parents and students. I am also a strong believer in the free market and capitalism.

I am the owner of Benjamin Franklin Charter School. In existence for over 20 years, we provide an excellent education for over 3,000 students with a 96% graduation rate.

I am a state legislator. I often take strong stands on issues. No matter whether one agrees or disagrees with me, I think most, if not all, would say I serve the public with great integrity. I sure try to.

That’s why I must take issue with recent articles and columns by the Arizona Republic. I understand that some do not like charter schools, including The Republic. But, the marketplace does as enrollment in them continues to expand. Challenging my integrity and those of our schools is a bridge too far for me not to respond. I appreciate the chance to do so and may surprise a few readers with what I feel are important next steps.

  • State legislation to enable charter schools and the current rules in which they operate occurred in 1994. I started our schools in 1995. I did not enter the Legislature until 2001. I did so to serve the public, not help my schools. In fact, I have voted against charter schools at times during my tenure.
  • The original legislation created a new, competitive education model by authorizing the state to contract with private companies (both for-profit and non-profit) to provide public education services. I originally founded our school as for-profit, but by almost any objective measure, it now makes sense to become a non-profit. About 95% of the charter schools are. Grand Canyon University is making this change, too.
  • This transition is in the best interest of our schools, even though I lose control to a new Board of Directors. It alleviates both the property tax and income tax burdens (as is the case for other charter and district schools) and provides lower financing costs for future buildings.
  • Because I wanted parental involvement in the governance, one of the board members not only has business experience but is also a long-time BFCS parent. Another has worked in government. While still another is the best procurement lawyer in the state.
  • I am not making “$30 million” during this transition. That’s not even close to the final number which won’t be known until additional appraisals and costs are done. However, we will be making a profit just as the supplier of buses, curriculum, books and contractors of buildings do with public schools. For nearly twenty years, my wife and I were personally guaranteeing loans and real estate leases because we did not have the taxpayer to fall back on as district schools do. That is common expectation in the private sector.
  • The Republic wrote that taxpayers will effectively have paid twice for our schools after the non-profit transition. Actually, they didn’t even pay once! Simply put, the state doesn’t allow charters to ask taxpayers to pay for buildings. The buildings were purchased through private sector financing and the taxpayers have no liability for the debt associated with them. That burden is exclusively mine.
  • Last but not least, our transfer to a non-profit is being done legally, transparently, responsibly, and with an eye to the future so that we have the right approach that continues to yield AzMERIT test scores exceeding the state average. In fact, our students test about 20 percentage points higher.

Notwithstanding my disagreements with the Republic story, any organization or person should be open to improvement, or addressing concerns. Though I have no authority to expand the non-profit board, it is my understanding that they have been exploring the option of expanding its membership with individuals from the business or education worlds.

Also, because so much concern has been expressed regarding charter school operators legally making a profit from contracts with the state, I am happy to work with anyone, including my friends from both sides of the aisle in January for a comprehensive look and potential legislation, not just for charter school operations, but also for any private sector business contracting with the state. Freeways. Higher education. Health care. Numerous abuses in the K-12 education arena such as in Scottsdale. How much are people making at this intersection? Is it too much or not enough? What are the consequences of curtailing profit, or expanding it? If we think making a profit from providing quality products or services is bad, then we should review all private state contractors. Not just charter schools.

Let’s not be afraid of that discussion. Let’s have it, retaining laws and practices where we should and reforming where we must. In the meantime, I will continue to operate our schools with the utmost integrity and commitment to academic excellence.

If you would like to read more about Arizona Charter Schools and what is going on during this transition, please take a look at Robert Robb's article in the Arizona Republic, "If an Arizona charter school makes big bucks on education, why is that a scandal?". 


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