Following a debate lasting more than an hour, the Idaho House this afternoon approved—on a 42 to 27 vote—a unique finance structure that will send more money to public charter schools.
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.
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.
"Yes, jealousies may grow between charter schools and traditional schools," said the bill's sponsor, Twin Falls Republican Rep. Lance Clow. "In the first year, 2014, public charters will receive approximately $114 per student; in 2015, public charters could receive approximately $171 per student."
But Boise Democratic Rep. John Gannon led a chorus of Democratic legislators who argued against the measure.
"We simply can't support a new funding system when the state doesn't adequately fund our current school system," said Gannon.
Lewiston Democratic Rep. John Rusche, the House Minority Leader, argued that the funding mechanism was an "unfair situation."
"We're being asked to put a funding stream on auto-pilot," said Rusche.
But Mountain Home Republican Rep. Pete Nielsen called Rusche's argument "fiddlesticks."
"This is an attempt to level the playing field," said Nielsen. "And this legislation could be looked at again at any time down the road. This is not a closed box. It's not sealed in cement."
Challis Republican Rep. Lenore Barrett, who is known for her colorful and sometimes obtuse remarks during House floor debates, lived up to her reputation.
"If you have a heart, you can vote with it. If you have a head, you can vote for it. If you have neither, then let's all just go to the ladies room," she said to her fellow legislators—many of whom shook their heads. "And for those who argue about federal money, well, guess what? There has been federal money at the beginning of everything, including the Garden of Eden. Then they just turned out the lights and caught a bus."
The projected fiscal impact is expected to be $1.4 million in Fiscal Year 2014 and $2.1 million in FY 2015.
The bill now heads to the Idaho Senate for its consideration. Debate on the HB 206 could begin as early as next week in the Senate Education Committee.