Charter bills face a Senate floor showdown

Two controversial charter school bills face a potential fight on the Senate floor, when lawmakers get their chance to amend them.

The Senate Education Committee sent both bills to the Senate’s amending order, and supporters hope to tighten up some of the language. But any senator can offer amendments on the floor, and Education Committee Chairman John Goedde predicted a showdown on at least one topic: allowing nonprofit groups to authorize charter schools.

Here’s a refresher on the two bills, and a preview of what might come up on the Senate floor:

House Bill 206. This is the bill to provide $1.4 million in stipends for charter school facilities. As written, and as approved in the House, the bill allowed charters a per-student building stipend tied to per-student spending on bond issues and levies for traditional schools.

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Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls

Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, is drawing up language that would instead tie the charter school stipends to the bond levy equalization program — a state-funded $17 million program that helps cover the cost of traditional school buildings. The idea is to draw a direct connection between the amount of money the state sends to traditional schools for facilities, and provide charters state money in proportion.

Charters would still receive roughly the same amount of money in stipends, said Ken Burgess, a lobbyist representing charter schools.

Another amendment speaks to the fee charter schools would pay to their authorizing bodies. Charter schools would still be subject to this new fee, but authorizers would have to document their costs.

House Bill 221. This is the complicated charter governance bill. Universities and nonprofit groups would be allowed to authorize charter schools, and potentially collect state-funded fees for doing so.

One amendment in the works would allow only Idaho-based education nonprofits to authorize a charter school. And, said Burgess, this is an important issue for charter advocates. “I don’t want to close to door to it. It’s an emerging trend on the national level.”

But there could be a fight emerging. In committee Monday, Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, again voiced his concerns over allowing nonprofit groups to operate a charter school. He said he expects competing amendments on this issue — and suggested some amendments haven’t even been written yet.

If the Senate amends and passes the bills, the House would have to agree to any changes.

Amending Day?

Senate Education sent three other unrelated bills to the floor for rewrites:

  • Senate Bill 1147, a labor bill that would limit teacher contract clauses to one to two years, and Senate Bill 1148, a bill allowing school districts to cut teacher salaries. Both labor bills are co-sponsored by the Idaho School Boards Association and the Idaho Association of School Administrators, and echo language from the voter-rejected Proposition 1. ISBA agreed to sending the bills to the floor for technical amendments.
  • House Bill 205, which would unfreeze movement on the teacher salary grid. The repeal of Proposition 3 froze the grid. A divided committee voted 5-4 to send this bill to the amending order — to attach a one-year sunset clause to this bill, mirroring the sunset clauses attached to the labor bills working their way through the Legislature.