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House Committee Gives Passing Grade to Bill That Would Restructure Funding To Public Charter Schools

"I've visited charter schools throughout the state; some are in brand new buildings and some look like something out of the 1970s back up on cinder blocks."


A House committee pushed a measure this morning that would rewrite school funding in Idaho by allocating more dollars for public charter schools' building construction and maintenance.

Currently public charter schools have no discrete source of revenue to pay for facility costs, usually diverting funds meant for teacher salaries in order to pay rent or bond installments. Traditionally, school districts pay for facilities through voter-approved measures. Additionally, traditional public schools receive state subsidies for bond levy repayment costs.

"This bill is a the product of a lot of compromises," Jason Hancock, deputy chief of staff with the Idaho Department of Education, told members of the House Education Committee this morning. "Everybody got something and everybody gave something up."

House Bill 206 would earmark a percentage of the average amount of facility levy funds being raised by school districts on a per student basis. For Fiscal Year 2014, the distribution would be equal to 20 percent of the amount. For FY 2015, the percentage would increase to 30 percent. Going forward, the percentage would increase or decrease in 10 percent increments based on the level or increase or decrease in the appropriations to traditional public schools.

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

When asked if the Legislature's Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee had given its blessing to the new funding methodology, Hancock said the bill wouldn't go through JFAC.

"But, historically, a piece of legislation with fiscal impact is passed by the entire Legislature, then JFAC traditionally funds it," said Hancock. "They don't say 'aye' or 'nay' on policy."

Idaho Falls Republican Rep. Linden Bateman motioned to pass the bill even before public testimony had concluded.

"I've visited charter schools throughout the state; some are in brand new buildings and some look like something out of the 1970s back up on cinder blocks," said Bateman. "This is good legislation that moves us to a principle of uniformity."

Kelly Trudeau, administrator at Meridian's Compass Charter School, said her school had paid for its structure but ended up paying over $1 million in fees for the bond.

"We needed to double our enrollment simply to keep up with our bond payments," said Trudeau. "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."

HB 206 now goes to the full House for consideration.