Idaho Considers Lifting Charter School Caps

Published March 10, 2012

Idaho state Rep. Bob Nonini has introduced a bill that would lift the cap on the number of new charter schools allowed to open each year. The state’s House of Representatives approved the proposal, and the Senate held a hearing on it March 5.

“Idaho does not rank very high among states with charter schools and corresponding charter school laws,” explains Nonini (R- Coeur d’Alene).

 Idaho currently has two charter school caps: Only six may open each year, and no more than one may open in any school district each year. Nonini also noted the state’s “arduous” chartering process and charters’ inability to raise money through property taxes, public bonds, or levies though they are fully public schools. The state funds charters only with per-pupil allotted funding.

These policies have limited charter school success in Idaho, he said.  

 “There are many private charitable foundations that shy away from giving money to Idaho charter schools because of the cap of new schools,” he said. The new policy would make “Idaho charter schools and new charter schools trying to open more attractive to the foundations that support the charter movement nationally.”

High Student Demand
Currently, 7,000 Idaho students are wait-listed for charter school seats, said Melissa McGrath, an Idaho State Department of Education spokesman. She notes that the number of students on charter wait lists is the same as it was five years ago.

“When Superintendent [Tom] Luna took office [in 2007], the state had about 28 public charter schools in operation and about 7,000 students on a waiting list to get into a charter school. This year, the state has 43 public charter schools in operation and still has about 7,000 students on a waiting list,” she said.  

The steady demand by Idaho families to get into charter schools is evidence that “students and families want more choices in public education,” she said.

‘Children Are All Different’
Charter schools meet that goal of providing increased public education options, said Stephanie Grisham, spokesman for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.  

“Children are all different when it comes to food, interests, development, and definitely in the way they learn,” Grisham said. “Charter schools offer different curriculums that can be tailored to a child’s needs.  There are Montessori schools, STEM schools, charters that focus on the arts or back to basics.  Additionally, charter schools are able to ‘turn on a dime’ and make changes to various programs, unlike the traditional schools that generally have to go through the district to make changes.”

Grisham adds that “raising caps would allow more children [and] families to attend the school of their choosing and allow further quality operators to open their doors.”

Image by Matt Biddulph.