Commission approves new charter school, denies another

A new Idaho charter school has the green light to start educating students, but another one does not.

The Idaho Public Charter Commission on Thursday unanimously approved an application for North Idaho-based Kootenai Classical Academy and denied an application for Virtual Preparatory Academy of Idaho, a would-be online charter hoping to target at-risk students across the state.

The commission denied a prior application from Kootenai Classical earlier this year after petitioners failed to meet several requirements. The school’s backers were better prepared Thursday — and had the support of commission staff, which helps commissioners vet new charter schools.

Staff’s review of the petition showed the school meets four of five “standards of quality” used in the application process, from educational programing to the capacity of local board members. The school fell short in one area, school leadership and management, but staff said the school is close to meeting the standard.

“It looks like you are more robust than you once were,” said commissioner Nils Peterson, before voting to grant authorization to the school.

Still, one North Idaho educator’s concerns about approving the school surfaced Thursday.

“In my opinion, this school targets the exact market segment that we serve, and has the potential to divide that market segment to the detriment of all,” Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy Principal Dan Nicklay wrote in a May 6 letter to commissioners.

Founding Kootenai Classical board member Robert Miles pushed back Thursday, arguing that his school has a more direct emphasis on classical learning. The school will also have a heavier emphasis than Coeur d’Alene Charter on serving special-needs students, Miles said.

Kootenai Classical intends to serve to up to 702 K-12 students across North Idaho beginning in the fall of 2023.

Thursday’s meeting also revolved around concerns with Virtual Preparatory Academy of Idaho’s petition. Commissioner Peterson grilled representatives from the school about an arrangement that would make its head administrator an employee of an outside firm contracted with the school.

Peterson wondered how such an arrangement would allow the school’s board to hire and fire the administrator.

A contract with the outside firm is still in the works, and an administrator’s employee arrangements have yet to be shaped, representatives from the school said.

Commission chair Alan Reed questioned the school’s emphasis on working with school districts to recruit at-risk students. Reed was skeptical that districts would work with the school.

“I understand what you’re saying,” said Cody Claver, a former Idaho educator and general manager of a for-profit charter school who showed up to support the virtual academy. “But there are select number of kids that traditional schools just struggle to serve and help.”

Claver and other supporters weathered nearly an hour’s worth of questioning from the commission before the seven-member panel denied the request.

Commissioner Brian Scigliano encouraged the school to reapply at a later date.

“Come back with a clean solution,” he said.

Thursday’s meeting also featured a year-end update on a range of data points from commission director and head of staff Jenn Thompson.

Some highlights:

  • The commission approved six charter schools in 2021 and denied two. Four would-be charters withdrew their applications following feedback from the commission.
  • The commission oversees 57 charters, about three-fourths of the statewide total of 75.
  • Total enrollment of the commission’s charters is 29,049, just over 8% of all Idaho’s public K-12 students.
  • Thirty-two of the commission’s charters are meeting minimum standards in math proficiency outlined by the commission. Thirty-three are meeting the same standards in English language arts. The standards are based largely on math and ELA scores on the Idaho Standards Achievement Test from students at the charters compared to the same scores from students at school districts in which the schools operate.
Devin Bodkin

Devin Bodkin

EdNews assistant editor and reporter Devin Bodkin is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He lives and works in East Idaho. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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