Federal grant to benefit charter schools

Charter schools in Arizona will receive additional help finding and retaining qualified special education teachers during the next five years through a $5 million federal grant.

Lynn Busenbark with the state Department of Education made a presentation Monday night to the state Board for Charter Schools.

Busenbark, director of program support, exceptional student services, explained the goals of the Arizona State Improvement Grant and how they will be met.

Those goals include: recruitment and retention of qualified special-education teachers; ensuring fully certified special education teachers are in classrooms of charter schools; and implementation of a reading initiative to improve academic performance.

The third goal is tied to Arizona Reads legislation that state superintendent of public instruction Jaime Molera wanted and which provides excess money from the federal No Child Left Behind legislation for kindergarten through third-grade students.

Goal two was the focal point of Busenbark's presentation.

"Emergency certification (for teachers) can be renewed if a teacher is making progress (toward full certification)," Busenbark said.

"But it's a drop in the bucket because we can only support 20 teachers per year and huge numbers work on emergency certifications, so when we select those 20 teachers they must agree to stay with their charter schools at least two years after training."

The grant allocation for goal two is $215,600 per year.

"A good portion of the money will be spent to have four county consortia reach out to charter schools and say, 'We want to help you with these issues,' " Busenbark said.

"It will be up to individual charter schools to take advantage of what is offered.

"But training will be local and information immediate."

Yavapai, Navajo, Pinal and St.

David are the four consortia that will provide technical assistance.

State Department of Education personnel visited 17 charter schools and 54 traditional school districts during 2001 to review compliance with special-education regulations, the study reported.

It found that among traditional schools, 87.41 percent were in full or partial compliance, while 12.59 percent were out of compliance.

Among charter schools, 72.94 percent were in full or partial compliance and 27.06 percent were out of compliance.

The study also found traditional schools in the state receive about 21 complaints per 10,000 students in special-education annually, while charter schools get 121 complaints.

The national average is 22 complaints.

Busenbark said the percentage of fully certified special-education teachers working at charter schools will go from 60 to 95 during the five years of the grant.