Charter Schools

About 30 high school freshmen and sophomores who attended Odyssey Charter School in Idaho Falls, Idaho, may have to repeat classes -- or even an entire grade -- next year after the Idaho Public Charter School Commission found their fledgling school failed to measure up.

Idaho Virtual Academy is the state’s largest public charter school with more than 3,000 students. IDVA contracts with for profit company K12 Inc. for its curriculum and management. In 2007, K12 sent student essays from several schools to India to be edited. We now know that Idaho Virtual Academy was one of those schools.

North Star Charter School in Eagle has appealed the move by the Meridian School District to revoke its charter to the State Board of Education. But that appeal may be premature. It’s the latest move in what has become, to all parties, a maze of shifting and difficult to understand state law.

Meridian started the process of revocation last month saying the school it authorized 10 years ago is not financially stable. But the district has not actually revoked the document that allows North Star to operate.

Spokesman Eric Exline says the district can’t do that.

Idaho’s 2013 legislative session is expected to wrap up Thursday. Passing the public education budget has held lawmakers up. Wednesday another of the session’s big education issues cleared its final hurdle before heading to the governor’s desk. But the overhaul of the state’s charter school law is not what backers had hoped it would be.

Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

Researchers at the U.S. Census Bureau have believed for some time that private school enrollment has been on the decline. Now Bureau statistician Stephanie Ewert says they’re sure. Her new report does not say why fewer students are choosing privates schools, but Ewert says the growth of charter schools may have something to do with it. Around the country she found that places where charters grew, private school enrollment got smaller.

Classroom
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.

Charter advocates in Idaho are pushing for an overhaul of the law that governs their schools. State lawmakers are looking seriously at that. And this week two bills have passed the House.

Samantha Wright / Boise State Public Radio

Idaho lawmakers are considering a re-write of the state's charter school law. Thursday they'll hear from the public.

Idaho was an early adopter of charter schools. Fifteen years ago, the state passed a law to allow the publicly funded, privately run schools to be created. Since then the only major change has been the formation of a commission to oversee charter schools. In recent years, though, Idaho has slipped from being one of the charter-friendliest states in the country to one of the least. 

Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

Charter school advocates in Idaho are pushing state lawmakers for money to help pay for facilities. They argue they need the money because they can’t pass levies like traditional districts. Many districts say they need that money even more.  There’s one charter school that’s become a poster child for this debate over school funding.

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.

Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

The public wasn’t thinking much about Idaho charter school funding until lawmakers held a pair of public meetings this month.  That was when charter school advocates turned out in droves to plead for more funding.

Idaho lawmakers Thursday agreed to consider a bill to give more money to charter schools. Jason Hancock with Idaho’s Department of Education told the House Education Committee charters have a hard time paying for buildings.

Darin Oswald / Idaho Statesman

About 350 people came to a meeting at Idaho’s capital Monday night which lawmakers called an education listening session. Many signed up to share their thoughts on issues facing public schools. One theme rose to the top, education funding, or the lack of it. 

Kids In School
Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

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. 

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. 

Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

Idaho Virtual Academy (IDVA) is one of Idaho’s 48 charter schools and one of seven online charters run by for-profit companies. As we've reported this week IDVA is Idaho’s largest public school, bigger than most of the state’s school districts. Idaho taxpayers fund it and it’s managed by K-12 Inc. headquartered in Virginia.

Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

There’s a room off the Bell family kitchen in Kuna where alphabet letters march above the fireplace and multiplication tables hang on cubicle dividers.  This is where 6th grader Wyatt Bell watches a video lecture on algebra. He’s one of about 3,000 students of Idaho Virtual Academy (IDVA).

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Idaho has 48 charter schools. The publicly funded, independently run schools have strong support from some of the state’s top political leaders. But a new report says Idaho is not doing enough to encourage charter growth.

heritagecommunitycharter.com

Caldwell’s Heritage Community Charter School has some serious problems. That’s the assessment of the state’s Public Charter School Commission, which oversees the publicly funded, privately run schools. Heritage has been in operation for one school year with students from kindergarten to high school.

heritagecommunitycharter.com

Caldwell’s Heritage Community Charter School has been open for a year. And Thursday its board of directors heard harsh criticism from Idaho’s Public Charter School Commission. 

Commission members say they’ve never seen so many problems at one school, including the inability of the board to understand finances. Tamara Baysinger, the commission’s director, says it’s more complicated than just the board.