Voices from the Idaho EdNews Community

Despite what you might hear or read: School choice in Idaho is expanding and working for families and students

Bluum CEO Terry Ryan

It has, yet again, been a contentious legislative session in Idaho around the issue of school choice. Much energy, effort and political capital was directed at trying to create a Parental Choice Tax Credit. It failed, as similar effort over the years have failed. Personally, as others have noted recently about me in their public musings, I support all forms of school choice. Simply put, I believe no one knows better what their children need for their education and learning than parents. As I see it, more choices for parents means more opportunities for children. It also means parents have agency in their children’s education and as such responsibility for it. I was sad to see the Parental Choice Tax Credit fail, but I respect others who see it differently.

But, my job and organizational mission is to support the strengthening and growth of Idaho’s public charter school sector. It’s our public charter schools that have been providing Idaho families with school choice for a quarter century. Idaho families support public charter schools. This is evidenced by the fact more and more Idaho families are deciding to enroll their children in one of our state’s 70+ public charter schools. Table 1 below shows the growth in Idaho public K-12 enrollment over time; as well as the growth in the number and percentage of students attending a charter school.

Table 1: Student Growth in ID K-12 Enrollment and ID Charter Enrollment Over Time

YEAR ID K-12 Enrollment ID Charter Enrollment % Enrolled in Charters
2023-24 318,884 32,323 10.1%
2022-23 318,979 29,857 9.4%
2021-22 319,067 29,204 9.2%
2020-21 316,159 31,576* 10%
2019-20 310,653 25,364 8.1%
2018-19 307,228 24,004 7.8%
2017-18 300,520 21,936 7.3%
2009-10 278.633 14,611 5%
2005-06 261,179 8,003 3%
1998-99 244,523 168 .068%

* Online charter school enrollment has been declining over time despite a Covid-19 spike in 2020-21.


In 25 years, Idaho’s public charter school sector has grown from an idea to a collection of schools across the state that serves more than 10% of our public school students. If all the students enrolled in the state’s public charter schools were enrolled in a single school district it would be the second largest school district in the state just after West Ada and ahead of Boise School District. It would also be our state’s fastest growing school district as shown in Table 2.

Table 2: Enrollment Growth over 5 years in Boise SD, West Ada and Public Charters

YEAR Boise SD Enrollment West Ada Enrollment Charter Enrollment
2023-24 22,482 38,693 32,323
2019-20 25,484 40,326 25,364
Net Gain/Loss -3,002 -1,633 +6,959


There is a lot in these numbers to think about. A couple of observations worth making here. The growth in charter enrollment is not directly correlated with the decline of student enrollment in particular district schools. For example, the declining enrollment in the Boise School District has more to do with the affordability/or lack thereof of family housing than charter school competition.

Also, not shown in these numbers are home-school families that are deciding to send their children back to school or to school for a first time, but to a public charter school. In Bonner’s Ferry, for example, of the 546 children whose families have said they intend to enroll in the North Idaho Classical Academy when it opens in August 2025, 69% of these children are currently being homeschooled. Supporters of both traditional public schools and school choice should unite in celebrating data like this.

The growth in Idaho’s public charter school enrollment over the last five years was driven in part by a $22.5 million federal Communities of Excellence Charter School Program Grant my organization administered from 2018 to 2023. Building on this work, Bluum received a second CSP grant of $24.9 million to create another 5,900 seats by 2029.

The Communities of Excellence (COE) grant supported 28 new school openings, and the creation of a total of 11,467 promised new school seats. As part of this work, Bluum commissioned Boise State University’s Idaho Policy Institute to report on the impact of the grant over five years. Key findings reported include:

  • At the end of the grant period a little over half of subgrantee schools served similar rates of non-white, Hispanic, and economically disadvantaged students compared to the statewide average, while almost all subgrantee schools served similar rates of special education students compared to the statewide average.
  • When looking at English Language Arts proficiency rates for all COE subgrantee schools, 28.6% had proficiency rates similar to the statewide average, 23.8% had lower rates, and 47.6% had higher rates of proficiency.
  • When looking at math proficiency rates for all COE subgrantee schools, 38.1% had proficiency rates similar to the statewide average, 23.8% had lower rates, and 38.1% had higher rates of proficiency.

In sum, students in these Community of Excellence charter schools outperformed state averages in ELA and Mathematics in all reported subgroupings (Economically Disadvantaged, English Language Learners, Hispanic or Latino and Students with Disabilities.)

School choice in its currently available form – public charter schools – is working for Idaho’s families and children. Families are choosing these schools of choice and their children’s learning is benefiting from the choices being made. Idaho taxpayers are also getting a good deal from its public charter schools as they operate without access to any local property taxes. School choice works in Idaho. Parents get it.

Terry Ryan

Terry Ryan

Terry Ryan is CEO of the Boise-based education nonprofit Bluum and Board Chair of the Idaho Charter School Network.

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