In May, I wrote that my son's charter school was surrendering its independence. The couple who had founded the place over a decade-and-a-half ago turned over the keys to a professional management company that runs a diverse stable of charter schools in Arizona. They did so, they told me, because they're overwhelmed by regulatory compliance, and the rules get more burdensome by the year. The new company has a staff of pros handling red tape that's increasingly beyond the capacity of the administrators at independent schools. After a Sunday afternoon spent filling in unbelievably stupid forms, I don't blame them a bit.
It seems that the charter really had fallen behind on paperwork. At the end of last week, as I picked up my son, an administrator with a crate of manila envelopes stuffed with government forms intercepted arriving parents, asking that we fill them out and get 'em back ASAP. What was in there? So goddamned glad you asked.
One of the forms, if I properly understand its opaque verbiage, was intended to determine our family's eligiblity for the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. For the record, we're not homeless, and unlikely to be so anytime soon, since I can't unload my house in this market. We also have no interest in participating in any federal programs, even if they were designed for people who have homes they'd like to get rid of. But schools are apparently required to make all parents fill out the forms so they can be properly dinged if they nefariously segregate the roof-and-walls-challenged kids or some such bureaucratic nonsense.
Another form asked us about the languages used at home, the student's primary language whether or not it was a language used at home and, perhaps, the language in which we dream. I'm not clear on that point, though, since the form had not been crafted by anybody who answered "English" (or even "bad French") to the first question. Neither, for that matter, had the McKinney-Vento form, so maybe we'll end up accidentally qualifying for that program, after all.
We had to prove Arizona residency, too. Apparently, there's a serious problem with Nevadans, or perhaps, sinister Californians, making the multi-hour, twice-daily commute across the desert to drop their kids off at the local schools. That has to be a bitch when you add in extra-curriculars. The state form promised that it was intended to prove residency only, and not citizenship. Uh huh. I had to provide a copy of a document of my choice for this one, selected from a list including driver's license, utility bills, or, I shit you not, a note from another resident saying that I, too, live here.
The form demanding a photocopy of my son's immunization records seemed reasonable, by contrast — until you remember that "Arizona law allows exemptions for medical reasons, lab evidence of immunity and personal beliefs." Personal beliefs exempting your kid from immunization requirements are demonstrated by signing a form (PDF) saying that you have personal beliefs exempting your kid from immunization requirements. So, you can immunize your kid, or not, as you please, but you must then do paperwork telling the state that you've immunized your kid, or not, as you please. Clearly, money well-spent.
The form — I'm not clear whether it's federal or state — demanding that I list who lives in my home, and requiring the signature of a notary, went in the garbage. Seriously. Fuck off.
So, I now have a better understanding of the regulatory burden facing independent schools, and why it's becoming so difficult for them to maintain that independence without letting bureaucratic requirements fall through the cracks and suffering the consequences. They're screwed, and so are we.