Why Idaho May Be Headed For A Fight Between School Districts And Charter Schools

Feb 25, 2013

Alan Millar runs a charter school in Sandpoint and heads the Idaho Charter School Network.
Credit Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

Tuesday lawmakers in Idaho’s House Education Committee hear from the public and vote on a bill to give more money to charter schools. Under the bill charters would get money each year for buildings. Advocates say they need it because they can’t pass levies like traditional districts. But some districts call the measure unfair. Now a fight could be brewing between the two groups as both vie for limited state funding.

Erica Kemery runs the South Lemhi School District. Its hundreds of square miles of mountains on the Montana border are home to about 100 public school students. Kemery told lawmakers earlier this month at a public listening session; districts like hers need help from the state.

“We simply don’t have the option of running a levy because our rural communities are too poor,” she told them.  

Kemery says districts and charters have shared equally in painful funding cuts over the past few years. Now, she says it’s not fair for charters to get money districts don’t. But she says a fight is not inevitable.

“Because I believe we’re all here for the same purpose. We’re all here to serve students,” she says.

Alan Millar says he hopes conflict can be avoided. His group, the Idaho Charter School Network is pushing the proposal to fund buildings. But he says a fight is possible. 

“If the traditional education establishment isn’t willing to accept that charters are an integral part of the education landscape in Idaho, then we’re going to continue down this same kind of road,” Millar says.

His group and others in the charter community have taken pains to avoid conflict. They met for months with the organizations that represent school boards and school administrators. Neither of those groups is exactly thrilled with the proposal to give charters building funds that districts don’t have, but they won’t stand in the way.

In Garden City DaVinci charter school is the poster child for the charter funding cause. At least that’s what school director Cindy Hoovel calls it.

DaVinci shut down last Friday due to financial troubles that started with unexpectedly losing its lease.  Hoovel says charters need state help. But she can see why traditional districts would cry foul.

“It’s going to be very difficult to make it true and right for both types of schools,” Hoovel says.

She thinks a fight between districts and charters is likely. She says it wouldn’t be the first time districts accused charters of siphoning money from them.

If the bill gains traction it will eventually end up in the Senate Education Committee. Steven Thayne is a member of that and sits on the committee that writes the state’s budget. Thayne says a fight between districts and charters is a possible.

“We’ll see how that plays out,” Thayne says. “Everybody wants more money. So it’s a problem.”

Thayne may have a solution to that problem that neither group will like. He says he’s not inclined to give anyone more money.