School choice effort to continue with $24 million federal grant

Bluum CEO Terry Ryan
Bluum CEO Terry Ryan

Bluum was notified Thursday it was awarded a new $24.8 million federal grant that will help grow and strengthen Idaho’s charter school network.

“We are a state that really values parent choice for students. My colleagues in other states are impressed that we can still pass charter school legislation in Idaho that has bipartisan support,” said Bluum CEO Terry Ryan.

The state can expect new schools being built, more teachers and administrators being hired, expanded opportunities for new authorizers and an impact to the broader education system. 

“Those are jobs for lenders, lawyers, architects as well as carpenters, electricians and masons. We hope these schools deliver results academically for students and their families, because the ultimate goal is to use this opportunity to help open and grow schools that are centers of excellence,” Ryan said.

The Expanding Opportunity Through Quality Charter Schools Program grant is awarded in a five-year cycle. In 2018, Bluum, a nonprofit charter support organization, used the $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 will allocate funds with these objectives in mind:

  • 90% — increase the number of seats by 5,900 students and schools by 13, especially for underserved students, by providing planning, program design and implementation assistance.
  • 7% — support quality authorizing and the authorizing process, and impact the broader education system by providing it with the lessons and processes from high-quality schools and sharing best practices.
  • 3% — cover the cost of administering the grant over the next five years.

“We’ve been successful in the past at creating technical opportunities,” said Ryan, citing the areas of special education, academic and financial management support. 

“What we’d like to see under this grant are professional development and support for schools that cross over sectors … such as support for mental health, effective use of AI in the classroom and training for the effective use of data to improve classroom instruction,” he said.

Ryan noted the support received from the Legislature, Gov. Brad Little, the State Board of Education and State Department of Education. 

“We are lucky to have groups like Building Hope and the Idaho Housing and Finance Association supportive of our collective efforts,” he said. “Most importantly has been the sustained support and encouragement of the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation. They had a vision of ‘20,000 school seats in 10 years’ a decade ago and they did everything they could to support our efforts to deliver on the vision.

“My initial reaction was one of excitement and a feeling of pride. It is great to be part of a big team and to be successful in a shared venture.  My second reaction was one of fear. Can we really deliver on the promises and commitments we have made?”

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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