State Office Questions Success Of Idaho Charter Schools

Mar 19, 2013

Credit Malate269 / Wikimedia Commons

A year ago, Idaho lawmakers asked the state’s Office of Performance Evaluations (OPE) to study charter schools. They wanted the office charged with assessing Idaho’s agencies and programs to determine if charter schools were meeting the goal of making the state’s public education better overall. Last night, members of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee heard the answer. Amy Lorenzo was one of those who presented the OPE report.

“The initial intent that created the charter school movement, those distinguishing elements are now less clear,” Lorenzo says. “So I think the timing is right for the legislature to review those elements to make sure they are still relevant and measureable.”

One of the original goals of the charter school movement was to provide a wide variety of educational choices not found in traditional schools. Hannah Crumrine, another of the OPE presenters, says choice is no longer just the domain of charters.

“Some districts are opening alternative schools," Crumrine says. "They are changing their curriculum. They are changing their academic calendars. They’re offering after school programs. It’s these types of opportunities that are now more available in the districts.”

The report also says there is no evidence that charters have delivered on the goal of creating education innovation, and disseminating it to traditional schools. Lawmakers, it says, did not define what that would look like and have not examined the system to see if that’s happening.

Idaho schools’ superintendent Tom Luna is critical of the report. Luna says innovation and dissemination are happening. As examples he points to many of the same things Crumrine lists as once the sole purview of charters and now becoming increasingly common in traditional districts; things like magnet schools and online learning.  

The report also featured demographic information on charters and traditional schools. Those include:

  • Students living in poverty: Charters – 46%  Traditional – 50%
  • Students receiving special education: Brick and mortar charters – 8%  Virtual charters – 9% Traditional – 10%
  • Ethnic diversity: Charters – 87% white, 8% Hispanic   Traditional – 78% white, 17% Hispanic
  • Students with limited English proficiency: Charters - < 0.5%  Traditional – 6%

The report also discussed funding differences between charters and traditional districts. You can read an in-depth story we did on that topic here

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