Senate passes charter school bills

Two charter schools bills — including a controversial proposal to provide stipends for charter facilities — are a step closer to the governor’s desk.

A divided state Senate approved the charter stipends bill on a 20-15 vote. Minutes later, a charter school governance bill had easier going, and even achieved a bit of bipartisan support, passing on a 28-7 vote.

Both bills have already passed the House. But since the Senate amended both of the bills, the House will have to sign off on the amendments before the bills will go to Gov. Butch Otter.

House Bill 206 would allow charter schools to collect $1.4 million in stipends in 2013-14. The amount of the stipends would gradually increase over several years.

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Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls

Idaho Falls Republican Sen. Dean Mortimer, the bill’s floor sponsor, said charter  schools should be able to lay claim to state dollars to provide “safe and secure facilities.”  The first-year payment translates to about $34,000 per charter school. Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde said this sum would be a “huge help” to charters, such as the Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy in his legislative district.

But Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee vice chairwoman Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said the bill contradicted the initial intent of the 1998 charter school law: setting up “laboratories of experiment” within the public school system. And JFAC co-chair Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said the charter facilities issue, and all school budget debates, stem from an inability or “unwillingness” to fund schools adequately.

Senators amended an already complicated formula that would be used to calculate the charter school stipends. The formula will now be tied, in part, to the bond levy equalization payments sent to traditional schools. This amounts to about a $17 million from the state general fund.

The charter school governance bill, House Bill 221, would allow universities to authorize charter schools — a concept that was repealed with the defeat of the Students Come First laws. Senators amended this bill, at Goedde’s urging, to strike language that would have also allowed nonprofit organizations to authorize charter schools.

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Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint

But even with the amendment, Boise Democratic Sen. Elliot Werk feared that the authorizing language could lead to more failed charter schools, as has occurred in Arizona.

How they voted:

The 20-15 vote on House Bill 206, the charter school stipends bill:

Yes (20 Republicans, 0 Democrats): Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot; Cliff Bayer, R-Boise; Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson; Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian; John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene; Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon; Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian; Todd Lakey, R-Nampa; Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston; Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa; Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls; Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene; Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood; Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls; Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth; Jim Rice, R-Caldwell; Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton; Steven Thayn, R-Emmett; Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens; Chuck Winder, R-Boise.

No (8 Republicans, 7 Democrats): Les Bock, D-Boise; Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise; Dean Cameron, R-Rupert; Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls; Branden Durst, D-Boise; Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls; Brent Hill, R-Rexburg; Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston; Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint; Roy Lacey, D-Pocatello; Fred Martin, R-Boise; Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow; John Tippets, R-Montpelier; Elliot Werk, D-Boise.

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