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Charter School Funding Bill Pulled Back to House Committee, But Passes Again

"We're changing, fundamentally, how we fund school districts."

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A measure that would restructure funding for Idaho charter schools, which passed through the House Education Committee Feb. 26 with a "do pass" recommendation, was pulled back to the same committee this morning in an unusual move that committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, an Eagle Republican, said wouldn't be happening again anytime soon.

"I do not make it a practice to pull things off the [House] floor," said DeMordaunt. "In the future, if you want to amend a bill after it's passed here, you can amend it on the floor by sending it to General Orders."

DeMordaunt agreed to pull the bill back this morning, when he acknowledged he had erred Feb. 26 when he told Boise Democratic Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking that she could not offer an amendment to House Bill 206, which would earmark designated funds for public charter school building construction and maintenance.

"This is a real dilemma for me," said Ward-Engelking on Tuesday. "I want charter school students funded adequately but I want the same thing for every public education student in Idaho."

But public charter school operators argued that they had to pull funds from their revenue streams to pay for building rent and maintenance.

"We needed to double our enrollment simply to keep up with our bond payments," said Kelly Trudeau, administrator at Meridian's Compass Charter School. "We use 56 percent of our funding just to pay for our facility. That leaves us only 43 percent to pay for utilities, technology, textbooks, desks and equipment."

Ultimately, the majority of the House Education Committee agreed to earmark a percentage of the average amount of facility funds to help out the charters.

But the same bill was back before the same committee today as Ward-Engelking offered an amendment that would limit the funds to charter schools that had been in existence for two years or more.

"Two years gives them a chance to get up and running," said Ward-Engelking. "They usually, by that time, if they’re successful, they’re growing and they need that additional facilities money.

But the majority stuck to their original decision, killing Ward-Engelking's proposal.

After the vote, Gooding Democratic Rep. Donna Pence said lawmakers were entering unchartered territory.

"We're changing, fundamentally, how we fund school districts," said Pence. "I'm not sure if that's going to be a good thing or bad thing, but it's a fundamental change that we instituted right here."