Idaho’s charter schools bring choices — and challenges

Idaho’s public charter school movement is no longer an afterthought.

Over two decades after the first charter opened its doors, enrollment statewide has swelled to 30,598 kids — nearly 10 percent of the state’s 307,428 public K-12 students. 

And charters are growing rapidly, adding students at a record pace while the rest of the state’s public K-12 schools experienced enrollment declines during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The demand drives charter support group Bluum’s quest to help the schools grow. Backed by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation’s “20 in 10” goal to expand charters to 20,000 more students, Bluum has tapped into millions in federal and private grant dollars to spearhead the creation of almost 12,000 new charter seats in Idaho from 2015 to 2020, according to the nonprofit’s own numbers

Meanwhile, charters offer a range of educational niches, from college prep to medicine and online learning, adding to the schools’ appeal among Idahoans.  

Charters are here to stay, yet pushback lingers. Attempts by critics to cap their growth have failed again and again, while most Idahoans, including lawmakers, say they generally approve of charters, according to a 2019 Idaho EdNews opinion poll

Still, more choices for Idaho families has brought more challenges.

  • Charters are among the state’s highest — and lowest — performing schools, and state leaders have refused to close ones that continually struggle academically or demonstrate poor oversight of taxpayer dollars.
  • The schools have a history of largely underserving Idaho’s minority and poor populations, and families in some rural communities still lack access. 
  • Charter expansion rankles some traditional educators in a state where K-12 funds are based largely on average student attendance. As charters grow, so does their share of precious K-12 tax dollars. 

What does the push to grow charters mean for Idaho families and K-12? How is the state adapting? 

EdNews’ weeklong series, “More choices, more challenges,” dives into the issues surrounding Idaho’s fast-growing charter sector, from their growth and appeal to their funding and performance. 

Here’s a look at what’s to come:

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday 

Thursday

Friday 

Disclosure: Bluum and Idaho Education News are both funded by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation. 

About Devin Bodkin

Reporter Devin Bodkin covers education issues in East Idaho. He is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

Read more stories by Devin Bodkin »

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