Statehouse news: Charter rankings jump

Idaho made large gains in an annual report that ranks states based on their charter school laws.

Idaho jumped from No. 32 to No. 20 in the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools report, “Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of State Charter School Laws.”

The report ranks charter school laws in 43 states compared to the organization’s 20 components for strong charter school laws.

Todd Ziebarth, the report’s author, wrote Idaho made the second largest jump of all the state’s this year due to two laws enacted by the 2013 Legislature. The first expanded the rules on which organizations can authorize new charter schools, while the second provides funding for charter school facilities.

In the report, Minnesota ranked first again, while Idaho was ranked between Hawaii and North Carolina.

The organization’s 20 components include:

  • No caps on growth of charters.
  • A transparent charter application, review and decision-making process.
  • A requirement for performance based charter contracts.
  • Clear student recruitment, enrolment and lottery procedures.

On Wednesday, representatives of the Coalition of Idaho Charter School Families, the Idaho Digital Virtual Academy, and some of the virtual academy’s students appeared before the House Education Committee.

They offered an overview of their schools and organizations, called for protection of school choice.

“We’re not here to ask for more money,” charter coalition manager Jane Wittmeyer said. “We’re asking the funding formula be equitable.”

Senate Ed eyes changes to charter laws

Continuing with the theme of charters, members of the Senate Education Committee introduced a new bill that tweaks existing charter school law.

Current law states that the executive director of the Idaho State Board of Education is responsible for enforcing and carrying out provisions of charter school law.

This bill would make it so that the executive director, or his designee, could fulfill those duties.

Marilyn Whitney, chief communications and legislative officer for the state board, pushed for the change as a way to avoid potential conflicts of interest in the case of appeals.

The bill also makes other tweaks to aligning the law with current practices, Whitney said.

Mike Rush serves as the executive director of the state board, which is a policy-making body overseeing public schools and state colleges and universities.

Hiring in rural school districts

Fewer than 400 people live in Bancroft, Idaho, so it’s not surprising that the North Gem School District struggles to find qualified people to fill all of its open positions.

MarcGibbs748
Rep. Marc Gibbs

That’s why the district is asking the Legislature to relax restrictions on hiring spouses of school board members.

“In seven of the nine districts I represent in eastern Idaho they can’t find enough people to serve on the school board,” said Rep. Marc Gibbs, R-Grace. “This solves their problems.”

Gibbs presented RS 22538 to the House Education Committee on Tuesday morning and members unanimously agreed on a voice vote to print the bill.

The bill would allow school districts with less than 1,200 students to hire and compensate spouses of trustees. In North Gem’s case, the drama instructor is volunteering because her husband is on the school board. In the Grace School District, it’s the music teacher that must volunteer, Gibbs said.

“This is desperately needed by lots of rural schools,” said Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, a member of the House Education Committee.

Gibbs said the State Department of Education decided to limit this hiring perk to small districts because “large districts have a qualified pool of applicants,” Gibbs said.

The bill requires districts to advertise for the job and if they have no qualified applicants, then they can hire a spouse. The small districts must advertise the position every year that the spouse is employed.

Committee Chairman Rep. Reed DeMordaunt said it’s important that job descriptions are fair and not worded so that only one person qualifies — a spouse, for example.

Physical education

The debate over a rule on physical education requirements is headed into extra innings. The Senate Education Committee delayed a vote once again Tuesday — to allow senators and House members to review an attorney general’s office opinion on the issue.

The rule would allow students to receive one high school credit for participating in varsity or club sports. But lawmakers wanted the attorney general’s office to weigh in on potential legal pitfalls. For example, if a student receives high school credit but doesn’t actually participate in a varsity or club sport, could the school district or the authorizing teacher face sanctions?

The House Education Committee has already approved this rule — including the high school credit option. But the committee rejected other pieces of the rule: a 60-minute-a-week P.E. requirement in elementary school, and a 200-minute biweekly requirement in middle school.

Rules generally go into effect and carry the weight of law if they pass one legislative committee — and this rule covers a wide variety of academic requirements. But committees have the power to strike down sections of a rule.