By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
But it didn't exactly work out that way.
Delite and Ernest Gaddie's Mountain States Technical Institute closed in 1991 following investigations by the Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Department of Education and the state Board for Private Postsecondary Education, among other boards. The Gaddies were accused of improper use of government student-loan money, fraud and other complaints.
Mountain States filed for bankruptcy in 1991, leaving in its wake a flurry of civil lawsuits from creditors and students.
But the Gaddies are not easily discouraged. In October of last year, when the charter school application parade began, the Gaddies applied to start the McGuffey Basic School, which would use the McGuffey Reader in a morally based curriculum.
The McGuffey Reader, the standard text around the turn of the century, makes reference to God and is generally held to be offensive to minorities. The Arizona Attorney General's Office, which reviews curricula at the behest of the state Board of Education, said no to the McGuffeys.
And the board said no to the Gaddies. Undeterred, Gaddie daughters Kelly Wade, Lisa Davies and Lora Jonas filed an application with the state Board for Charter Schools for the Patrick Henry Basic School. None of the three has more than a high school diploma, according to their application, nor will they require certified teachers in their school. However, they have extensive experience teaching children in their church. Patrick Henry also is a traditional, back-to-basics school with an emphasis on phonics. In fact, the Patrick Henry School application is, word for word, identical to that of the McGuffey Basic School, except for the McGuffey Reader.
The Patrick Henry application is still pending, since the board has some questions about the school's financial structure. While the sisters were preparing their application, their brother Reed Gaddie applied for a charter for Arizona Apprenticeship Training. Reed Gaddie envisioned a vocational school designed to teach high schoolers the heating, ventilating and air-conditioning trade. Reed Gaddie is a graduate of the school his parents ran until government investigations forced its closure in 1991, Mountain States. In fact, after graduation, he was head of its air-conditioner-training department. His application states that he will be the sole governing body of Arizona Apprenticeship Training. His application has been approved by the state Board for Charter Schools, pending a background and credit check. The application does not mention that Reed Gaddie was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia in 1988, while he was a teacher at Mountain States. Ironically, all three Gaddie school applications state that illegal activities are cause for dismissal.
The autonomy of charter schools may open up other areas of abuse, as well.
The state is prohibited by the Constitution from funding schools that teach religion. But the actual policing hasn't been worked out yet, and a handful of applications are skirting the edge of the law.
Christine Battelle's is one of them.
In October, Battelle applied for a charter from the state Board of Education for her Phoenix Academy of Learning. The school's plan is based on the Delphian School near Portland, Oregon, which is tied to the Church of Scientology and includes curricula based on the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard. The board balked. Battelle retooled her application and promised not to teach religion. In January, the board approved Battelle's school. Meanwhile, the Noah Webster Academy in Ionia County, Michigan, landed that state's charter school law in court late last year. The academy had received a charter from the state to provide instruction based on "moral lessons" via computer to home schoolers.
The ACLU and the Michigan teachers union, however, successfully argued that the state was paying for Noah Webster Academy to distribute its religion-based curriculum. A Michigan circuit court found the state's charter school law unconstitutional. Michigan's legislature adopted a new version of the law, which will take effect next month.
A similar lawsuit in Arizona could put a hold on every charter school in the state.
The enthusiasm for chartered private education is primarily pent-up frustration at the failings of public schools. In their finest form, charter schools can do things that local school districts haven't, like provide a more individualized education--and keep kids in school.
It takes exactly one glance through charter school applications to see where the public school system is failing. Almost all of the charter schools will limit enrollment. They're decidedly small, and so are their classes. In most cases, students have only one or two teachers who stay with them for several years. Schools are being proposed in all shapes and sizes, tailored to particular niches of students. Politically, they're all over the landscape, but primarily conservative. There are Montessori elementary schools, alternative high schools, vocational education schools, phonics-based reading programs, multiple language and arts schools reminiscent of the movie Fame.
There are no frills, no football teams, cheerleaders or marching bands. Most of the charter school students will use public libraries, take their lessons on a computer and move at their own pace. The schools have few administrators and no elected local school board members. In many cases, parents are required to participate in order for their child to attend.