Charter school demand continues to outpace charter growth

Idaho’s demand for a public charter school education continues to outpace availability, even as the state sees additional schools opening this year.

There were at least 10,711 students placed on charter school waitlists this school year. Idaho Education News requested waitlists from all Idaho charters for this story and approximately three-fourths responded, so the total would likely be higher if all schools responded.

“There are still far too many students sitting on a waitlist for their school of choice,” said Jason Bransford, CEO of Gem Prep Innovation Schools, which embarked on a multi-year expansion, resulting in seven campuses and one slated to open in Ammon in 2025.

Elevate Academy is a growing charter model that serves the Treasure Valley’s at-risk student population. The school offers career tracks like welding and manufacturing, construction, culinary arts and graphic arts.

“This is an indication that parents have a vision for the future of their children that they believe a charter school can help them fulfill. Just looking at Gem Prep schools, when you combine the actual enrollments and waitlists together, we find a trend of increasing interest year over year,” Bransford said.

Though Idaho charters are publicly funded and open to any student, enrollment is limited and awarded via lotteries. Once a school’s seats are full, those who don’t get in either go on a waitlist or go somewhere else, often returning to traditional neighborhood schools.

Today there are 73 charter schools serving about 30,000 students. With a total of 314,000 K-12 students, charters serve 9.5% of all public school students in Idaho.

The 10,711 students on waitlists only represent those who live near enough to a charter to apply and have not lost hope in applying,” Bransford said. “There are countless others who would apply but there are no charters in their community. Others have given up applying, because their child has been waitlisted for several consecutive years in their school of choice.” 

Five years ago, charters served 7.6% of the public school population, or 22,000 students. The nearly 2% increase was the result of 16 schools opening their doors over that period, averaging about 4.2 per year, or about a 5% growth rate.

Five new charters are planning to open this school year: Alpine Academy Chubbuck, Promise Academy Caldwell, Gem Prep Twin Falls, Kootenai Classical Academy and Pinecrest Academy Lewiston. Once these schools are fully open, the state will have 78 charters serving nearly 10% of the student population.

Here’s a look at the 10 longest waitlists, according to the school administrators:

  • Liberty Charter School in Nampa: 2,032 students waiting.
  • Victory Charter School in Nampa: 1,473 students waiting.
  • Vision Charter School in Caldwell: 1,357 students waiting.
  • North Star Charter School in Eagle: 824 students waiting.
  • Legacy Charter School in Nampa: 684 students waiting.
  • Compass Charter School in Meridian: 515 students waiting.
  • Elevate Academy Inc in Caldwell: 412 students waiting.
  • Alturas International Academy in Idaho Falls: 377 students waiting.
  • Mosaics Public School in Caldwell: 336 students waiting.
  • Taylor’s Crossing Charter School in Idaho Falls: 335 students waiting.

This article contains information contributed by Idaho Ed News data analyst Randy Schrader.

Darren Svan

Darren Svan

Reporter Darren Svan has a background in both journalism and education. Prior to working for military schools at overseas installations, he was news editor at several publications in Wyoming and Colorado. You can send news tips to [email protected].

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