Study: Idaho charter law trails other states

The 2012 Legislature lifted its cap on Idaho charter schools, yet their growth lags, according to a report released Monday.

Part of the problem is the relative weakness of Idaho’s 1998 charter school law, according to “Idaho in Focus: The School Choice and Digital Learning Landscape,” a study completed by C/H Global Strategies and commissioned by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.

“Idaho has a chance to capitalize on educational innovation that is proving effective, but the state doesn’t have all the right elements in place,” Albertson Foundation Executive Director Jamie MacMillan said in a news release. “If we believe in providing equal access to all students in Idaho, why wouldn’t we want to grow high performing charters, private schools and other learning options?”

Among the study’s findings:

• Idaho trails other states in providing school choice scholarship programs (available in nine states and the District of Columbia) and tax credits for businesses or individuals who contribute to scholarship organizations (offered by eight states). A version of a tax credit bill was introduced during the 2012 session.

• In 2012, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools rated the strength of state charter school laws. Idaho’s law ranked No. 32 among 42 nationwide, down four spots from 2011. According to the report, “Idaho dropped in the rankings because the Students Come First requirements also applied to charter schools, reducing their autonomy.”

• According to 2010-11 National Assessment of Educational Progress, Idaho charter schools outperformed public schools on fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading assessments.  According to the state’s 2012 ratings, 58 percent of Idaho’s charter schools received a four- or five-star rating, compared with 59 percent of public schools; however, 16 percent of charter schools received one star, compared with 4 percent of public schools.

• Thirteen states allow nonprofit institutions, colleges or universities to authorize charter schools; Idaho does not. The Students Come First education laws would have allowed universities to authorize an Idaho charter school.

• Citing a 2010 Ball State University study, Idaho charter schools receive 23.8 percent less funding per student: $6,178, compared to $8,108 per student in public schools.

• Idaho charter schools tend to serve an urban or suburban demographic: More than 58 percent of charter students live in cities or suburbs, compared to 45 percent of students in traditional public schools.

Disclosure: Idaho Education News is funded through a grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.

  • http://fortboise.org/blog/ Tom von Alten

    So the good news is, we’ll get our “down four spots” back when they learn that “Students Come First” got tossed by the voters.

    But in the larger picture, it seems that the quality of education is what matters, not whether it’s charter-flavored or regular. Making this a very odd little study.

  • John Rusche

    Kevin, when you correct for the “urbanicily” of charters, is the funding closer? Remember smaller and more rural school districts get more per student funding.

    I also submit that Idaho trails everyone in any kind of tuition scholarship, particularly needs based scholarships for higher Ed.

    • Kevin Richert

      Rep. Rusche: Good question. The new study doesn’t drill down to that level of detail. I’m not sure if the 2010 Ball State study does.

  • Kevin S. Wilson

    Mr. von Alten: It’s not such an “odd little study” if you look at it through the lens of your typical education “reformer” and privateer.

    The fact that the study was “commissioned by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation” makes me initially skeptical about the validity of the results and raises the possibility that the study was designed and conducted in such a way as to arrive at predetermined results. But set that possibility aside for the moment and look at the results themselves:

    * “Idaho trails other states in providing school choice scholarship programs . . . and tax credits for businesses or individuals who contribute to scholarship organizations.” The obvious assumption here is that such “scholarship” programs are desirable and necessary. How else would one arrive at the conclusion that Idaho is somehow at a disadvantage because such programs are not in place here. But if we go searching for reasons why such programs are desirable and necessary, we quickly find that they are desirable and necessary because the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) says they are. Like so much other legislation pretending to be about education “reform,” legislation creating these so-called “scholarship” programs originated with ALEC, with the intent of circumventing state and federal law so that taxpayer dollars can be used to fund private and parochial schools. http://alecexposed.org/wiki/Bills_Affecting_Americans%27_Rights_to_a_Public_Education

    * “Idaho dropped in the [charter school] rankings because the Students Come First requirements also applied to charter schools, reducing their autonomy.” Apparently, autonomy is highly desirable for charter schools but not for traditional public schools. This autonomy granted to charter schools enables them to be held to standards other than those that other public schools are held to, to shed “troublesome” students through expulsion before such students can lower scores on standardized testing, to ignore the obligations other schools have to engage in standardized testing, to abide by contracts arrived at through collective bargaining, and so on and so forth. One consequence of such “autonomy” is the ability of charter schools to claim to achieve better results when the truth is the results are the consequence of cherry-picking from the best and brightest of students while leaving the remainder to be dealt with by traditional public schools.

    * “The Students Come First education laws would have allowed universities to authorize an Idaho charter school.” More charters, more money. It’s as simple as that. Ever wonder why hedge-fund managers and venture capitalists took such an interest in Idaho’s ballot initiatives on Propositions 1, 2, and 3, donating hundreds of thousands of dollars through the secretive “Education Voters of Idaho”? Because financing the construction and operation of charter schools is Wall Street’s Next Big Thing, now that the Dot Com bubble has long ago burst, along with the housing bubble, and fewer prison systems are available for privatization. The billions in public education are there for the picking, and charter schools provide one of the quickest and easiest ways to siphon away that taxpayer money.

    The study becomes more explicable when viewed through the eyes of so-called “reformers” and privateers, no?