Charter Network pushes back on Caldwell School District fees

A new policy in the Caldwell School District is generating pushback from charter school advocates.

In March, the Caldwell School District Board of Trustees approved a policy asking charter and private schools to pay reimbursement fees if students from those schools want to participate in classes or sports programs through the district.

Caldwell’s new policy is not unique in Idaho. Nearby districts having been charging dual-enrollment fees for years. But, charter advocates argue state statutes require districts to enroll their students regardless if they agree to pay or not.

“They can put together the agreements, but we’re recommending schools not sign them because they don’t have to,” said Terry Ryan, who serves on the board of the Idaho Charter School Network.

The tug of war over funding comes as more charter schools are opening in the Caldwell area. The district anticipates losing 200 to 300 students to charter schools this fall.

Those students can return to their district school for classes or activities not offered at their charter or private school. Some districts, like Nampa, Kuna and now Caldwell, ask a student’s primary school to agree to help foot the bill. 

In Caldwell, costs vary. If the school district can collect state funding for a student, (a formula based on how many hours a student spends at a school) district spokeswoman Allison Westfall said the district would “work with the charter or private school to determine if a fee is necessary.”

If  Caldwell doesn’t collect any of those attendance-based funds, their fee schedule shows that charter schools will be asked to reimburse the district for academic costs at about $370 for one semester of a middle or high school class.

Costs for athletics range from $190 for middle school track to $460 for high school basketball, according to the district fee schedule.

“These agreements allow charter schools to contract for optional programs their students may want, but the charter has chosen not to offer,” Westfall wrote in an email.

Tracie Bent, the Chief Planning and Policy Officer for the Idaho State Board of Education, said school districts and charters do sometimes make financial agreements about sharing students. However, these agreements don’t determine whether a student can dually enroll.

State statute gives Idaho parents the right to enroll a student in multiple schools, “regardless of what agreement may or may not be in place between the schools,” Bent said.

“If the two schools were not able to come to agreement, the school would still be required to enroll the student,” Bent wrote in an email.

Bent’s interpretation of the policy led the Idaho Charter School Network to advise schools against signing Caldwell’s dual-enrollment contract, Ryan said.

Leaders at Elevate Academy plan to follow that advice.

Elevate expects to have 330 students in grades 6-10 when it opens in Caldwell this fall. Most of those students will come from the Caldwell School District, co-founder Monica White said, but the school will also pull from districts like Middleton, Nampa and Vallivue.

At the moment, White isn’t aware of any students who want to take classes through the Caldwell School District, but estimates 5-10 kids want to participate in sports.

“I don’t have to sign a contract for a kid to play athletics, because there are already laws that say the kids can play athletics,” she said. “… I’m not signing anything.”

Micah Doramus, Head of School at the Forge International School opening in Middleton this fall, said he hadn’t heard of the new policy.

If the Caldwell School District asked him to pay for student extracurriculars, he said he would “completely push back against the school being held responsible for that.”

“That being said, I would work with our school community…and work out a way to fundraise so those kids didn’t lose out on those opportunities,” he said. “Really it’s all about access and opportunity.”

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