Charter buildings stipend bill introduced

Members of the House Education Committee voted unanimously Thursday to introduce a groundbreaking — and potentially controversial — charter school funding bill.

The bill would provide $1.4 million to offset charter schools facility costs.

Because Thursday’s hearing was only an introductory print hearing, legislators did not allow testimony from education stakeholders or the public. Now that the legislation has been introduced, a full public hearing one the charter school proposal will likely occur in the coming days or weeks.

Jason Hancock, deputy chief of staff for the Idaho State Department of Education, said a committee including representatives from the Idaho Public Charter School Commission, school district administrators, the Idaho School Boards Association and Idaho Charter School Network crafted the plan after studying charter school rules and laws since June.

Unlike school districts, charter schools are unable to go to voters to seek bonds or levies to pay for facilities. Instead, Hancock said, charter schools often have to spend 15 and 30 percent of their operations money on facilities.

“During the coruse of their existence, (charter schools) have had to scrimp and save and steal in order to pay for facilities,” Hancock told lawmakers will introducing the bill.”

Ken Burgess, a lobbyist representing charter schools, concedes that the bill sets up an “interesting battle” in the Statehouse.

The pricetag poses one challenge, Burgess said. The second challenge is a matter of precedent: Idaho has historically resisted putting state dollars into school facilities, for traditional schools and charter schools alike.

Charter schools have been forced to siphon off some of their state dollars from classroom needs to facilities, since charter schools cannot use local property tax dollars to pay for facilities. That shift of money, from instructional needs to infrastructure needs, amounts to $7.8 million, or $549 per charter student.

Meanwhile, says Burgess, traditional schools collect $569 per student in building bonds or plant facilities levies — and this is the driving figure in the charter school bill.

In its first year, 2013-14, charter schools would receive a facilities stipend that represents 20 percent of what traditional schools pay for facilities. That comes to about $115 per student, or $1.4 million.

In 2014-15, the stipend would increase to 30 percent of what traditional schools pay for facilities — a cost of about $2 million to $2.1 million.

From there, the math gets even more complicated.

In 2015-16, the charter school facilities stipend could reach 40 percent — but only if the public schools’ general fund appropriation increases by 3 percent or more. If the public schools do not get their 3 percent increase, the bump in the charter schools’ stipend remains on hold.

Eventually, the charter schools could receive a stipend of 50 percent per student — but the facilities stipend would be capped at that point.

Charter school funding was a recurring theme during two House-Senate education committee “listening sessions” earlier this month. At both sessions, charter school advocates argued for funding equity — and money to help pay for facilities.

And the bill is designed to provide funding help for all of Idaho’s 43 charter schools, Burgess said. Roughly half of the state’s charter schools have borrowed money to build facilities — but half lease their buildings, and wouldn’t be helped by a bill that helps charters finance loans at a lower interest rate.

The funding bill is one of two major charter school bills in the works. The second, likely to be introduced next week, would focus on charter school governance issues:

  • The bill would allow colleges, universities and private nonprofit groups to authorize a charter school. The Students Come First laws had allowed colleges and universities to authorize charters.
  • It would require an authorizing entity to renew the charter every five years,
  • The bill would also rework the makeup state’s Public Charter School Commission. Currently, the board must have three current or former charter board members; three current or former members of traditional school boards; and a seventh, at-large member. This bill would get rid of these requirements.
Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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