Four new charter schools are set to open this fall


Gem Prep: Meridian North is one of several new charter schools opening across Idaho this fall.

Four new charter schools will open their doors in Idaho this fall — and lay the groundwork for a charter enrollment bump that could eclipse 1,400 students over the next seven years, charter support group Bluum announced Tuesday.

The inaugural classes of students at Alturas Preparatory Academy in Idaho Falls, Cardinal Academy in Boise, RISE Charter School in Kimberly and Gem Prep: Meridian North will join the more than 300,000 Idaho kids returning to K-12 schools this month and next. Some of the new schools are among the 61 charters and districts that have kicked off the year this week and last. Everyone will be back in school by Sept. 10.

In materializing expansions and openings years in the making, the four new school openings set the stage for more growth in the state’s already expanding fleet of charter schools.

Last school year, an influx of students brought the state’s charter enrollment to 30,598 kids, or about 10% of Idaho’s K-12 enrollment. The schools set to open this fall bring the number of Idaho charters to 81.

Here’s a look at charter school growth in Idaho since 2016:

Enrollment at Idaho’s charters is important because it impacts K-12 funding, which is based largely on average daily attendance. As charters grow, so does their share of the state funds.

Yet despite growth within charters, Idaho’s traditional schools are rebounding from the state’s first overall K-12 enrollment decline since 1997. Last school year, charters took in some 5,000 kids, while school districts shed over 8,000.

The 1,456 students Bluum projects will enroll in this year’s batch of new charters doesn’t signify a seismic shift in statewide enrollment. Yet some traditional K-12 leaders worry that continued charter expansion efforts in Idaho aren’t being effectively managed. Click here for a map of where Idaho’s charters are — and aren’t — located and how their enrollments vary from community to community.

School leaders are “trying to be strategic in how they grow their schools,” Bluum CEO Terry Ryan said, and “grow it slower in order to try and build and sustain a strong academic culture.”

Growth at the new schools will also be gradual. In its first year, Gem Prep: Meridian North will enroll students in grades K-5. RISE Academy will teach students in grades 4-8. Alturas Preparatory Academy — an expansion of the K-8 Alturas International Academy — will host students K-10 between its existing and new school buildings.

All three schools will add a grade level each year until they cover all high school students, Ryan said.

Cardinal Academy, designed to support high school students who are pregnant or parents in need of in-school childcare, will take on students at all levels of high school when it opens.

Gem Prep: Meridian North, will serve as the next in a handful of Gem Prep schools across the state. RISE Charter, unlike the other new schools, is the product of a partnership between charter leaders and the Kimberly School District that it’s located within.

While most charter schools operate independently of traditional school districts, all charters are public.

Disclosure: Bluum and Idaho Education News are funded by grants from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation. 

Idaho Education News data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this report.

Blake Jones

Blake Jones

Reporter Blake Jones covers the politics and policy of Idaho's K-12 public school system. He's a lifelong Idahoan, and holds degrees in Creative Writing and Political Economy from the College of Idaho. Follow Blake on Twitter @jonesblakej. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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