Charter Schools Dominate Conversation At Idaho Legislative Listening Session On Education

Feb 2, 2013

The education committees of Idaho’s house and senate listened for two and a half hours Friday to people sharing their thoughts on Idaho schools. About 200 people attended the session and about 50 spoke. 

Lawmakers from house and senate education committees heard from the public Friday.
Credit Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

By far the topic lawmakers heard about the most was funding for charter schools. A couple of charter schools packed the capital auditorium with parents and students. One parent from Boise’s Sage International School Caroline Robinson put it this way. 

“Why would the state not equally fund a public charter school as they do a traditional public school?” Robinson said. “This lack of equal funds deprives our children of the full benefits they deserve.”

The state does give charter schools and traditional public schools the same amount of money per student. But traditional school districts have other ways to raise money that charters don’t, like passing levies. So wealthy districts, like Boise do have more money per student.

One area where charters are at a disadvantage is funding facilities. House Education Committee member, Wendy Horman says legislators expect to see a bill to help charters pay for buildings soon.

There were also more general calls for increased education funding. Boise resident Steve Berch urged lawmakers to scrutinize some of the state’s many sales tax exemptions that go to businesses to find ways to generate more education money.

“Education should not be seen as a cost to be minimized, but an investment to be maximized,” he said. “I respectfully request that when you consider how you fund education, please be thorough, and look at both the numerator and the denominator.”

Berch said lawmakers have only looked at one side of the equation, spending cuts, and not the other, raising revenue.

A set of bills introduced by the Idaho School Boards Association was also on people's minds. They bring back parts of the Students Come First laws voters repealed in November through Proposition 1.  One of those bills puts a deadline on contract negotiations, so if school boards and local unions don’t reach an agreement by that date, board trustees set the contract terms. Boise lawyer Betty Richardson said that amounts to rigging the negotiation in favor of trustees.

”Under this legislation trustees are in a heads I win, tails you lose position,” she said.

A few people testified in favor of those bills. But most asked lawmakers to reject them and wait for recommendations from the governor’s education task force. But Senator Dean Mortimer, says the public doesn’t understand the purpose of the governor's group.

“And I think the important thing to realize is that the taskforce was not given the responsibility to address proposition 1 issues,” Mortimer says.

In their first meeting, task force members determined they would not make recommendations on labor issues.

Few teachers attended the listening session, presumably because it was held during school hours. However, one drivers’ education instructor said the key to student achievement was attaching real world consequences. He brought a draft bill he had written that would require students to maintain a respectable GPA before they could take drivers ed.