An Important Note About Arizona’s Highest Performing Public Schools

Many of you saw a piece on Tucson.com last week which was critical of BASIS charter schools.

The author of the piece comes to the same unsubstantiated conclusions that we have been reading for years.

Our network was aware of this piece before it was published because we answered a vast number of questions that the author had. But we know that criticism of schools like ours, that are attended by choice, is incessant — and for us, it is just noise now.

The bottom line is something the article itself actually points out: that our focus is on delivering a world-class education to our students — to whoever chooses to come to a BASIS charter school.

To explain to members of our community just a bit more profoundly, perhaps only one primary notion needs to be stated regarding the piece:

BASIS charter schools receive the same amount of money per pupil as any other Arizona charter school, and less money per pupil than Arizona district schools, yet BASIS charter schools have long been, and remain, the top performing schools in the state.

Indeed, it might have been a better use of time and resources for the reporter to investigate the reasons for our schools’ success.

  • She could have delved into the way that we have revolutionized the teaching model in grades K-4.
  • She could have described how we form the foundation for deep scientific study by students with our unique middle school science curriculum.
  • She could have investigated the network’s teaching, recruiting, and professional development strategies.

Indeed, we described all of these things and much more when the reporter interviewed us. But instead, she opted to take an easier way out, essentially reposting criticisms that were incorrect, inaccurate, and misleading in the past, and remain so today.

While a point-by-point rebuttal is not something that is called for, we did want to draw attention to two key truths that the reporter gets quite wrong: finance, and governance.

1. Financial Status

Regarding the financial status of BASIS Schools, the reporter falsely describes the charter holder as being “in distress” after a too-simplistic examination of its financial documents.

Over the past few years, BASIS charter schools have successfully refinanced a portfolio of our schools. Much like a homeowner weighs the benefits of paying points to buy down the interest rate for longer term savings when purchasing or refinancing a home mortgage, BASIS Schools weighed the benefits of paying debt issuance costs and other fees when refinancing our school loans, especially as they translate to longer term debt restructuring savings. In fact, because of this debt restructuring, our per-student facilities debt payments are 15% less per student than when we began our refinancing efforts. That savings translated to over $2.5 million in operating cash just in the 2016-2017 school year that was able to be routed to instructional spending and teacher compensation.

For the homeowner, the fee for points is paid up front in closing costs. For the charter schools, the expensing of costs and fees relating to the debt being refinanced appears on the financial statements in the year the refinancing is completed.

BASIS Schools continues to be cash flow positive. In addition to continuously improving our financial position and putting more funds into the classroom, we have cleared all debt covenants and financial compliance metrics for charter renewals and new charter applications.

Our students, therefore, are indeed better off for BASIS Schools having done this refinancing – and, remember, everything our network does, it does for the betterment of our students.

2. Governance Structure

Regarding governance structure, the reporter inaccurately conflates the governance structure of BASIS Schools with the governance structure of BASIS.ed.

“BASIS Schools” is

a) the non-profit charter holder in Arizona; as well as
b) the “parent” non-profit of the non-profit BASIS charter holders in Texas, Washington, D.C., and Louisiana; plus
c) the owner of all of the real estate for all of the network’s charter school entities.

Meanwhile, “BASIS.ed” is the management company for all BASIS charter schools – and has a management services contract with the entity called BASIS Schools. The management fee — and the services provided for that fee — are regularly reviewed, tested, and benchmarked by an independent auditor as part of a “reasonableness study”. Every one of these studies performed to date has concluded that the fees are within a reasonable range and that BASIS Schools has saved significant money by using the services of BASIS.ed.

The reporter falsely refers to BASIS.ed, by analogy, as the “torso” of a body that has BASIS Schools as the arm. In reality, the two entities, to play off of her analogy, are two entirely different people, each with autonomous decision-making. Indeed, the BASIS Schools board meets frequently, sets the strategic vision for the network’s charter school growth, holds BASIS.ed accountable for the services it provides, and re-negotiates the contract for those services on a regular basis.

Instead of incorrectly presenting the governance structure of BASIS Schools, perhaps the reporter could have more deeply explored a reality that is excellent news for thousands of public school students in Arizona, and elsewhere: that such a governance structure has led to the creation of the highest performing public schools in Arizona, and in the United States.

Ultimately, we believe that every charter school should be judged by results for its students. BASIS Schools are among the absolute top-performing schools in the world. They are at that incredible level of success with the same or even less per-pupil funding as all other schools. BASIS Schools have successfully expanded to multiple states, and as they have expanded, student results have only gotten better. BASIS Schools have grown from a 6-12 model to a K-12 model, opening schools in high-need areas of town like central Phoenix, south Phoenix, and, soon, south Tucson, which has resulted in radically diverse student populations — which remain united by their affirmative choice for the BASIS Curriculum.

Everyone involved with our network knows that our schools are schools of choice. We frequently say that our schools are for anyone who wants to attend them, though they are not for everyone. But given a choice, 17,000 students and their families have chosen to walk into our charter school classrooms today, and learn, and grow. That’s why we will continue doing what we do, for every student and family who chooses one of our schools.

Our best,

Craig Barrett, Chairman of BASIS Schools
Deanna Rowe, Executive Director of BASIS Schools

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