Report examines Idaho’s future

“White Students No Longer in the Majority” screamed recent headlines. Joining national trends, Idaho is undergoing significant demographic change. The state’s K-12 students are increasingly coming from homes that are less white, less rural and less wealthy. To better understand these changing demographics and what they might mean for education in the Gem State our two organizations teamed up, with grant support from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, to organize and lead an investigation of the state’s changing student demographics.

Specifically, we wanted to see what population and household projections for the period 2014-19 would show and what this would mean for schools. Key findings included:

  • Idaho’s school-age population is increasingly diverse in terms of racial composition; and this trend is likely to accelerate.
  • The Hispanic school-age demographic is expected to be the state’s fastest growing.
  • School-age population is expected to see a net increase in the 15-17 age group, but declines in both the 5-9 and 10-14 age groups.
  • Change varies significantly across the state. Many rural areas will see a decline in student-age population, while significant student growth will be clustered in just a handful of urban jurisdictions (these are: Treasure Valley, Twin Falls, Idaho Falls, Moscow and Coeur d’ Alene).
  • Statewide there will be an addition of approximately 23,500 new households, with the vast majority of these in the five high-growth communities mentioned above.
  • Much of the state is projected to see an increase in the share of households with an income of less than $25,000. The exceptions are in the high growth communities mentioned above where the share of households with incomes of less than $25,000 is projected to decline.

With these changing demographics in mind, we wanted to show how Idaho’s charter school sector (currently 48 schools serving about 20,000 students) could be supported to better meet the future needs of the state’s changing student population. Specifically, what will it take to help new schools open that best target the state’s high demand markets and the students living there? There are five improvements that charter school supporters should consider if the goal is to encourage charters to do more to help meet the changing needs of the state’s families. These include:

  1. Growing the Urban Market. Idaho’s urban areas are adding students fast. School districts in these communities can’t add new buildings quickly enough, and local taxpayers are feeling stressed to meet the costs of this growth. These are the communities where many of the state’s current high-performing charter schools operate, and some of these schools are well-positioned to expand their efforts. These schools have significant student wait lists, function in less costly buildings, and with the right supports (especially additional support for building space) could quickly add more quality seats.

 

  1. Tackling the Rural Challenge. Significant parts of rural Idaho will see a continued decline in student enrollment. This may necessitate the consolidation of school programs, or developing alternative means of serving a shrinking student base. Charter school programs and rural districts could jointly benefit by working cooperatively to provide shared learning opportunities for students. Sharing resources and talent across district/charter lines, as opposed to consolidating districts, may prove a winning strategy for delivering quality programs across large sparsely populated geographic areas while preserving local control of schools.

 

  1. Responding to the Dynamics of Growth. The changing age distribution of Idaho students will increase the near-term demands placed upon some secondary school programs only to be followed by enrollment declines in later years. The operational flexibility available to charter schools, in terms of curriculum, staffing, length of school week and day, use of technology and budget development, can be put to use to design programs that respond to volatility in student population.

 

  1. Serving a More Diverse Student Body. Charter schools in Idaho are serving a more diverse student population than it did just five years ago. But the charter sector needs to do more. The charter school student population is still less diverse in terms of race, income and special needs students than the statewide population of public school students as a whole. These are the fastest growing K-12 student demographics, and charters should be part of the mix in meeting their needs.

 

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  1. Pushing Innovation and allowing school dollars to follow students to their school. Charter schools should be allowed to use non-certified teachers, especially for hard-to-staff subjects like advanced mathematics or career-tech fields like high-value welding. State funding for charters should be modified so that schools with growing enrollments receive the same per-pupil funding levels as those schools with declining enrollments.

Idaho’s student demographics are changing significantly. The state’s schools need to adapt in order to better meet the needs of these future students. Charter schools are uniquely positioned to help provide some of the solutions prompted by the state’s changing demographics. But, to maximize opportunities for students the charter sector (and the public policies that support it) will also need to adapt and change with the times.

Click here for a summary of the report.

Terry Ryan is President of the Idaho Charter School Network. This article was co-authored by Matthew Kitchen, a senior policy analyst at ECONorthwest.

 Disclaimer: Idaho Education News is funded on a grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.