New federal charter school grant would target quality as growth slows

BOISE —  By the end of September, Bluum will learn if its charter school support will be backed by a new $24.8 million U.S. Department of Education grant.

The Communities of Excellence Federal Charter Schools Program grant is awarded in a five-year cycle. In 2018, Bluum, a nonprofit charter support organization, used its $22 million grant to kick off a rapid expansion of schools, funding 28 schools over five years. Charter schools now educate almost 10% of the state’s public school students.

Bluum CEO Terry Ryan
Bluum CEO Terry Ryan

If awarded the 2023 grant, Bluum will allocate it with three objectives in mind:

  • Increase the number of quality Idaho charter school seats by no less than 5,900 students, especially for educationally disadvantaged and rural students.
  • Support quality authorizing while supporting and spreading best authorizer practices statewide.
  • Impact the broader education system by providing them with the lessons and processes from high-quality charter schools.

Bluum’s partners  — the state, the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation and current schools — expressed a desire to slow the growth of new charter schools because the market is slowing down and concentrate on schools that meet academic and demographic needs, said Terry Ryan, Bluum’s CEO. 

“It would be great if we have multiple applicants for every grant we issue and real competition for the grants,” Ryan said.

According to the grant application, the money will be used for 13 sub-grant awards; 10 for new startup schools serving more than 300 students in grades K-12 or career technical education schools serving 6-12; three additional schools will be either smaller rural schools or smaller expansions of existing schools that may add additional grades.

Funds will also be used to assist public universities and colleges become charter school authorizers. Despite the ability to do so, higher education institutions have not authorized a school.

“None have taken it up in Idaho, but we’d like to see a university take on this responsibility” Ryan said. “Some of the highest quality charter school authorizers in the nation are universities and these include SUNY in New York and Central Michigan University in Michigan.”

Charter schools are the incubators of innovation in Idaho and having a really innovative university partner could lead to some cool opportunities, Ryan said. 

Additional plans include developing and providing more resources for topics such as charter school facility financing and school governance.

“Both of these have been useful resources in Idaho and across the country,” Ryan said.

The grant request highlights the impact of charters.  “Idaho’s public charter schools have become a critical and integrated component of the state’s overall K-12 public education system. Our state’s overall K-12 enrollment averaged an annual growth rate of 2.05% from 2012-13 to 2021-22. Over the same decade, the overall Idaho charter school enrollment has seen an annual average growth rate of 5.5%. Twenty-five years after the first charter school opened its doors in 1998, there are now more than 70 charter schools serving about 30,000 Idaho students.”

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

Darren Svan

Darren Svan

Reporter Darren Svan has a background in both journalism and education. Prior to working for military schools at overseas installations, he was news editor at several publications in Wyoming and Colorado. You can send news tips to [email protected].

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