Charters receive funding boost from state

Idaho charter schools have received nearly $3.4 million from the state to put toward facilities needs — a big increase from the $2 million they received in 2014.

The increase is not entirely unexpected. When the 2013 Legislature approved the controversial charter facilities funding law, over the objection of Democrats and some Republicans, the law was written to boost payments over time.

Idaho Distance Education Academy, 10.10.13
The Idaho Distance Education Academy’s campus in Boise. The online charter received $145,000 from the state — a portion of $3.4 million designed to offset facilities costs.

The charters’ facility payments are tied to the amount of money traditional schools collect from locally approved bond issues and plant facilities levies. In 2014, the charters were eligible for a 20 percent match; for every dollar per student collected by traditional schools, the charter schools were entitled to 20 cents per student. The law increased the 2015 match to 30 percent.

That means nearly every charter school in the state received a funding boost. (Click here to download a school-by-school breakdown.)

For Boise’s Sage International School, the increase is particularly steep. Sage added nearly 300 students in 2014-15, pushing its enrollment above the 800 mark. And since the charters’ $3.4 million is divvied up based on enrollment, growth equates to a windfall for Sage. The school received more than $171,000 in facilities payments this year, up from $67,000 a year ago.

Sage has been in aggressive expansion mode. Administrator Don Keller has said the school hopes for sustained enrollment of 800 to 1,200 — in part to maximize its state funding.

Since the state provided more money for charter facilities, some schools received a funding increase — despite declining enrollment.

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The Idaho Virtual Academy, a statewide online charter, received $158,000 in 2015, up from $132,000. That happened despite a loss of more than 500 students. (At 2,464 students, Idaho Virtual Academy remains the state’s largest charter school.)

Only one charter school sustained a funding cut: iSucceed Virtual High School. In the wake of a 29 percent enrollment drop, the Boise online school saw its facilities payment drop from $42,000 to about $40,500, a 3 percent decrease.

And the way the law is structured, the payments to charters could increase in coming years.

Future funding is tied to state K-12 budgets — specifically, money put in the state’s “educational support program” budget. If this budget increases by at least 3 percent, the charters are entitled to a boost in facilities payments.

The educational support program budget increased by 6.9 percent in 2015-16.