PHOENIX — More than 100 of the 544 charter schools in Arizona are in danger of closing because of excessive debt and other financial troubles, according to a recent report.
Self-described centrist think tank Grand Canyon Institute found that 105 charter schools in the state were losing more than $400 per student, per year.
"You will see a bunch of charters folding suddenly," said Curt Cardine, the study's main author. Cardine is a former charter executive for EdKey Inc., a large Arizona charter chain that had a $7.74 million net deficit as of June 30, 2018.
Arizona State Board for Charter Schools Chairwoman Kathy Senseman disputes that so many charters will close, saying Grand Canyon Institute's estimates are "a little inflated."
But Senseman said she considers the institute's research to be fair.
The Arizona Charter Schools Association felt differently.
"Let's be clear: there is absolutely nothing in our state's long charter history that supports GCI's assertion of a coming wave of charter insolvencies," said Matt Benson, a spokesman for the association. "In fact, going back a decade, Arizona's track record for charter closures has been stable and consistent with approximately one school closing each year due to financial distress. That's one school out of more than 500 operating statewide, a financial failure rate of less than .2 percent. Epidemic? Hardly."
The institute examined charter school finances between 2014 and 2017.
Charter schools have $2.56 billion in debt, while their property and assets are valued at $1.4 billion, according to the Grand Canyon Institute study.
The institute has advocated more aggressive oversight of charter schools to prevent financial problems.
"We're trying to help them be more pro-active," said Dave Wells, the study's co-author. "They have an interest in being pro-active. We're trying to make more transparency in our recommendations so this kind of problem can be contained and we can improve it in the future."