Idaho charters receive millions in private financing

Idaho charter schools sought and received nearly $81 million in private financing from one firm alone to start up and stabilize their operations over the last seven months, according to a recent announcement from investment bank Piper Sandler.

The company last month announced helping nine Idaho charters receive a portion of the funds aimed almost entirely at acquiring or building new facilities.

The grand total for these schools during that time period: $80,863,826.

The transactions represent another revenue stream for Idaho charters hoping to start up and expand, and to absorb a portion of K-12 students flooding the school system in a rapidly growing state.

Around 10% of Idaho’s 312,000-plus public school students attended a charter.

State dollars for operations flow to charters the same way they flow to school districts: through an arcane formula based on average student attendance. But unlike school districts, in-state charters can’t put bond issues for construction projects on a ballot — a reality that’s forced the schools to secure funding for capital projects via a range of other avenues over the years.

Local property owners pick up the tabs for bond issues OK’d by voters. Charters pay back their private loans, though the state does help cover some of their bond payments.

For some charters, funds also come via federal startup grants administered by Idaho charter support group Bluum, which has dispersed just over $17.5 million in the Gem State since 2019.

Charters also rely heavily on private donations. Grants from the J. A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation and other funders had totaled over $27 million by 2019, Bluum CEO Terry Ryan told EdNews last year.

Ryan shared Piper Sandler’s numbers with EdNews last week, and said the money represents diversification in charter facilities funding.

“This is a lot of new school construction for Idaho’s public school students and families, and it is financed in some really unique ways that don’t require local tax dollars,” Ryan said.

Most of the charters included in Piper Sandler’s announcement are in the Treasure Valley. Here’s a rundown of the schools that received the financing, and how much:

  • Gem Prep Meridian South: $10,185,000 in bonds for the acquisition and construction of a new school.
  • Elevate Academy North (Post Falls): a $8,778,826 taxable loan for a school set to open in 2022-23.
  • Elevate Academy Nampa: a $9,835,000 taxable loan for a secondary school.
  • Gem Prep Nampa: $10,100,000 in bonds for a school.
  • Gem Prep Meridian: $9,135,000 in bonds for a new facility.
  • Future Public School (Garden City): $9,395,000 in bonds for a new facility.
  • Gem Prep Pocatello: $7,120,000 in bonds for a new facility.
  • Alturas International Academy (Idaho Falls): $8,225,000 in bonds for a new facility.
  • Vision Charter School (Caldwell): $8,090,000 in bonds to refinance a “2016 bond series and a 2019 promissory note, eliminating risk of a balloon payment.”

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

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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