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.