Bluum awarded $17.1 million to expand public charter schools

A nonprofit group has been awarded a $17.1 million U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Charter Schools Program grant to grow and expand Idaho charter schools.

Bluum, a Boise-based statewide charter school support group, will lead the “Communities of Excellence” consortium. Bluum will be responsible for allocating the federal grant. Bluum is joined in the consortium by the Idaho Public Charter School Commission, the State Board of Education, the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation and the nonprofit charter facilities finance group Building Hope.

Terry Ryan

With the grant, the consortium hopes to increase Idaho’s charter school seats by 8,200 students within five years. The consortium hopes to serve Idaho’s most educationally disadvantaged and rural students through public charter school startups, replication and expansion.

“Idaho is the nation’s fastest growing state and we need to build more schools to meet the various needs of our expanding and diversifying student population,” Bluum CEO Terry Ryan said.

Idaho’s first charter school opened 20 years ago. Idaho now has 57 charters that serve approximately 22,000 kids, or 7.6 percent of Idaho’s 302,332 K-12 students.

Idaho charters are publicly funded and open to any student but enrollment is limited and awarded via lotteries. Once a school’s seats are full, students are put on waiting lists, and typically return to their neighborhood school. Nearly 11,000 students are on waiting lists, according to a survey of charter school administrators done by Idaho Education News last month.

Matt Freeman

Idaho’s most educationally disadvantaged and rural students are disproportionally underrepresented in most of Idaho’s charter schools, State Board Executive Director Matt Freeman said.

“With the steady increase in the number of charter schools being authorized in Idaho comes the responsibility for these schools to begin sharing proven successes for the good of the entire public education system. Two of the stated goals of this grant are to address these critical areas, which is why it earned my support,” Freeman said in a news release.

In the release, Idaho Public Charter School Commission chairman Alan Reed said the demand for charter schools is high in Idaho. “(This grant) provides the commission with invaluable resources to grow and strengthen our work, focus on encouraging increased diversity of student populations in charters, and ultimately continue to perform as an authorizer on the leading edge of quality in the school choice community.”

Four new charter schools opened in Idaho this school year. At least four more are expected to open in 2019, in Caldwell, Fruitland, Hayden and Middleton.

Idaho charters tend to outperform traditional public schools. Fifty-three percent of Idaho’s charter students achieved proficient scores on the math portion of the 2018 ISATs, compared to the statewide average of 45 percent. Sixty-three percent of charter students achieved proficient on the English language arts portion of the test, compared to the statewide average of 55 percent.

However, some traditional school leaders say charters’ history of underserving minority and poor students fuels the schools’ higher achievement.

Ryan expects 19 charters to benefit from the federal grant over its five-year term. Nine would be startup schools, five schools would expand with grant dollars, while five would replicate other charter models. All grant applicants must be approved by a public charter school authorizer.

For more information on the grant, visit www.bluum.org

Disclosure: Idaho Education News and Bluum are funded on grants from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation.

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