Charter facilities bill passes House

Supporters called it a matter of fairness.

Opponents also called it a matter of fairness.

But after more than an hour of debate, a $1.4 million bill to help pay for charter school facilities passed the House Tuesday.

After the 42-27 vote, House Bill 206 now heads to the Senate.

The bill uses a complicated formula to provide charter schools a stipend to help offset facilities costs.

In the first year, the charter schools would a stipend of roughly $115 per student — or 20 percent of the money spent, per pupil, on bond issues and levies that pay for traditional public school buildings.

In the second year, the percentage would increase to 30 percent.

In future years, the charter school percentage could reach 40 percent, and cap at 50 percent — but those incremental increases would occur only in years when the public schools budget goes up by at least 3 percent. (For the sake of comparison, that kind of trigger would probably not occur in 2013-14; the proposed budget for K-12 calls for only a 2.2 percent increase.)

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Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls

Supporters touted the bill as a small way to help charter schools — which cannot levy property taxes to pay for facilities.

“I believe this is an important step in the grand picture of education,” said Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, the floor sponsor of the bill.

“Is our system about protecting the status quo?” said Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle. “I hope it isn’t.”

But opponents said the bill allows charter schools to collect a facilities stipend — needed or not — without ever having to go to voters to make their case for the money.

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Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise

“What are the safeguards for public money in this bill? We don’t know,” said Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise.

“(It’s) a piggy-back bill,” said Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, who suggested voters may be less inclined to support school bonds and levies that also trigger an automatic payment to charter schools.

Ultimately, a curious coalition wound up opposing the bill. Twelve Democrats voted no. Some conservatives joined in opposition. So did four Republicans from the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee — including Co-chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, and the Vice Chairman Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell.

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Rep. Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell

Bolz said the state has only two potential sources for the $1.4 million: the public schools’ rainy-day account; or a $6.5 million facilities line item in the 2013-14 budget proposal, earmarked for maintenance needs statewide.

JFAC members did not include funding for the $1.4 million for charter schools in the 2013-2014 school budget they set Monday.

How they voted:

Yes (42 Republicans, 0 Democrats): Agidius, Anderson (1), Anderson (31), Anderst, Barbieri, Bateman, Batt, Bedke, Boyle, Clow, Collins, Crane, Dayley, DeMordaunt, Denney, Gestrin, Harris, Hartgen, Henderson, Hixon, Holtzclaw, Horman, Kauffman, Malek, Mendive, Miller, Monks, Morse, Nielsen, Packer, Palmer, Patterson, Perry, Shepherd, Stevenson, Thompson, Trujillo, VanOrden, Vander Woude, Wills, Wood (35), Youngblood.

No (15 Republicans, 12 Democrats): Andrus, Barrett, Bell, Bolz, Burgoyne, Chew, Erpelding, Eskridge, Gannon, Gibbs, Hancey, King, Kloc, Loertscher, Luker, McMillan, Meline, Moyle, Pence, Raybould, Ringo, Romrell, Rusche, Sims, Smith, Ward-Engelking, Wood (27).

Absent (1 Democrat): Woodings.

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