I toured the five buildings that made up ARTEC in the autumn of 2013. My guide was the then-superintendent of the Gooding School District Heather Williams. At the time I was impressed that the district-partners came together to provide learning options for their students that they could not provide on their own. I remember one district offered woodworking/cabinetry, while another offered something akin to finance and banking, and another offered auto mechanics and there were other “programs” that I am forgetting now! In speaking with the students in each program I was impressed by how engaged they said they were in their learning.
During the visit to each building, I was surprised to hear the partnership between the rural school districts described as a charter school. Having worked in the charter school sector since 2001 and having visited literally dozens of public charter schools across Idaho and the country what I saw at ARTEC was far more akin to what most people would have referred to as Regional Career Technical Centers that draw students from multiple public school districts. It was clear to me that the districts utilizing ARTEC utilized the state charter school law as a funding mechanism to support alternative learning opportunities for some of their students. As far as I could tell ARTEC’s governing board was made up mostly of district officials; one of whom was also the school’s authorizer.
As a long-time public charter school supporter, advocate, former school authorizer and as an individual responsible for allocating a $22 million federal Charter School Program Grant in Idaho, I believe: the current issues around ARTEC are more about public school districts having gamed the state charter law to fund technical education programs for their district students than it is about an independent public charter school doing wrong. In fact, I am skeptical ARTEC was even a public charter school as defined under state law when it received funds in 2020.
If you go to the ARTEC Charter School website and read its history you will learn that ARTEC started out as “The Career Academy Support Network.” As grant funds for the network were coming to an end the district partners involved looked for ways to keep the effort going and they approached the State Department of Education about allowing the various network programs to operate as a public charter school in August 2006 to be authorized by the Minidoka County School District. Later that year the state department issued ARTEC with a charter school start-up grant. From that point on in reading the history section of the ARTEC website it seems as if the effort went into remote control, and that by 2015 the energy around the effort had started to peter out.
Fast forward to 2021, and in looking at the ARTEC website you learn that the last public ARTEC Audit available is from 2016-17. The last ARTEC Audit available on the Minidoka School District website is from 2015-16.
Most importantly, Idaho state charter school law requires all public charter schools to have an up-to-date performance certificate with their authorizer. Specifically, 33.5205B(4) reads: All public charter schools approved prior to July 1, 2013, shall execute performance certificates with their authorizers no later than July 1, 2014. Such certificates shall ensure that each public charter school approved prior to July 1, 2014 is evaluated for renewal or nonrenewal between March 1, 2016 and March 1, 2019.
In searching the ARTEC charter school website there is no charter school performance certificate available from 2006 or from 2014, 2015 or 2016. The same holds for the school’s authorizer the Minidoka School District and for the State Department of Education website. It is quite possible, in fact likely, that the ARTEC charter school that received funds in 2020 was not even a public charter school. There is no evidence I could find that showed the school actually complied with state law and got renewed by its authorizer between March 1, 2016 and March 1, 2019.
The ARTEC story seems to be a sad tale of neglect and abandonment. In time the effort to provide alternative learning opportunities for students was neglected and ultimately deserted by its governing board, by its district authorizer and by the state department of education. In the end, it was the taxpayers who were left holding the bag.