Senate amends charter bill — significantly


For Ken Burgess, a lobbyist representing charter school advocates, it was a dreaded scenario. His two controversial charter school bills on the Senate’s “amending order” — where any senator could offer up changes.

When the Senate met late Wednesday afternoon, Burgess’ concerns were realized. Senators approved a significant change in House Bill 221, the charter school governance bill. They struck down language that would have allowed nonprofit groups to authorize charter schools, although the bill would still allow public and private universities to authorize a charter school.

Essentially, this would put Idaho where it was in 2011, when lawmakers approved the Students Come First laws and extended chartering authority to universities. School districts and Idaho’s Public Charter School Commission have that authority.

But the nonprofit language is a big deal to charter advocates. “I don’t want to close the door to it,” Burgess said Monday, after the Senate Education Committee voted to send HB 221 to the amending order. “It’s an emerging trend on the national level.”

According to a January study on charter schools, commissioned by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, 13 states allow nonprofit groups and universities to authorize charter schools. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, or NAPCS, ranks Idaho’s charter school law No. 32 among 42 states that allow charter schools; one of the group’s priorities is extending chartering authority to nonprofits, universities and city councils and mayors.

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Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene

In the Idaho Senate, this came down to a matter of money. The companion charter bill, House Bill 206, would grant charter schools stipends for facilities — and allow authorizing entities to collect fees to cover their efforts. Authorizing fees are another priority for the NAPCS — but Senate Education Committee chairman John Goedde openly questioned the prospect of providing private nonprofit groups with public money in the form of authorizing fees.

Now that the Senate has deleted the nonprofit authorizing language — in what is, evidently, the final couple weeks of the 2013 session — the issue is likely settled for the year.

Which illustrates two points. Never underestimate the power of a committee chairman. And never underestimate what can happen when a legislative body gets the chance to start amending a high-profile bill.

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