Idaho Gov. C.L. Otter signed a bill to lift the state’s cap on the number of new charter schools allowed to open each year.
“Idaho does not rank very high among states with charter schools and corresponding charter school laws,” noted state Rep. Bob Nonini (R-Coeur d’Alene), the bill sponsor.
The new law overrides two charter school caps in the state: Only six could have opened each year, and no more than one could have opened 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 on 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 spokesperson. She notes the number of students on charter wait lists is the same as five years ago. The state currently has 43 charter schools in operation.
The steady demand by Idaho families to get into charter schools is evidence “students and families want more choices in public education,” McGrath said.
Charter schools meet that goal of providing increased public education options, says Stephanie Grisham, spokesperson 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.”
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.