School choice rally packs Statehouse

Hundreds of Idaho charter school students crowded the Capitol on Wednesday to rally in support of school choice.

The students, along with a few of their parents and teachers, participated in the Coalition of Idaho Charter Schools Families’ “Capitol Day” events.

Students and charter school supporters stood 15-deep at the base of the Statehouse steps to chant and listen to speeches from Gov. Butch Otter and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna.

Connor Heitzinger, a third-grader at Nampa’s Idaho Arts Charter School, was among the throngs of students who attended the rally.  During his first visit to the Capitol, Connor was able to shake hands with Luna and tour the Statehouse.

“I got to see everything, I think it was pretty cool,” Connor said.

Connor’s mother, Jessica Heitzinger, said the event turned out to be a fun field trip for both of them.

“We have never done this before, but I thought he was old enough that he would be able to appreciate it,” she said.

After Luna and Otter finished speaking, members of a student choir sang the official state song, “Here We Have Idaho.”

Members of the group also chanted: “What do we want?… funding equity! When do we want it?… now!”

Several students also carried handmade posters adorned with messages such as “school choice = equal funding.”

Renee McKenzie, president of the coalition and wife of Republican Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, estimated 800 to 900 students representing the state’s 44 charter schools participated in events at the Capitol.

“These kids got up at 3:30 or 4 in the morning to travel all the way here for this event,” McKenzie said.

Last year, the group rallied for successful legislation to lift the cap on the number of Idaho charter schools. This year, they are seeking to equalize the funding formula so charter schools will receive as much as traditional public schools and be able to put money toward facilities, McKenzie said.

Formal legislation has yet to materialize, but could be coming forward quickly. This week, Senate Education Committee chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, reminded lawmakers that Monday will be the last day of this year’s session for members of the education committee to introduce new bills.

220px-ButchOtterOfficialCongressionalPortrait
Gov. Butch Otter

Otter did not address specific legislation during his two-minute speech to the coalition, but did signal support for their cause.

“I am with you, Tom (Luna) is with you… but we have got to make sure the Legislature is with us, and I’m sure they will be,” Otter said.