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Chartering new territory in Idaho

Today in Idaho, 11,000 students are waiting to get lucky … hoping to win the lottery and get in to a free public charter school in Idaho.    

With 11,000 students on charter school wait lists in Idaho, the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation has launched an initiative called “20 in 10” which calls for 20,000 more students to have a seat in a high-performing school, specifically charter schools, throughout the next 10 years.

We are driving this effort because we believe parents deserve more learning choices that fit the needs and learning styles of their children.

Here are some quick facts about charters:

  • Charter schools are free, public schools that any parent or guardian can apply to on behalf of their child.
  • There are 48 charter schools in urban and rural areas throughout Idaho.
  • Students are enrolled through a lottery system — unfortunately not everyone gets in because the demand is so great.  Students and parents love this option of learning, as evidenced by the steep rise in enrollment.
  • In 1997, 168 students were enrolled in Idaho’s public charter schools.
  • Today there are almost 20,000 students.

Charters are meant to be hotbeds of innovation — places that have the flexibility for students to tap into their passion, a place where they belong and can solve real-world challenges with the help of caring adults. Charters must meet all academic and legal requirements of traditional public schools and are governed by a school board. Yet, unlike traditional public schools they cannot bond for facilities or operational funding and cannot ask for any kind of additional tax dollars to support their efforts. Charter schools do offer families the freedom to choose the method and approach to learning that works best for their children.

The Albertson Family Foundation believes that innovative, high-performing learning models can demonstrate what is possible for students to thrive in a 21st century environment. We have a long history of supporting parental choice through charter school funding and those that receive “20 in 10” funding must successfully complete a rigorous business planning process. Only the best-performing learning models that meet the needs of diverse learners make it through the process. We also actively measure whether the student body reflects the community and if they don’t, we develop benchmarks for growth in this area.  So far, four charter schools in Idaho have received Albertson Family Foundation expansion grants.

To gain insights into how charter schools in Idaho can continue to add value and better serve the state’s families, the Albertson Family Foundation funded a study in partnership with the Idaho Charter School Network titled Shifting Sands. It examines a wide variety of data sources on district and charter school enrollments, attendance, performance, staffing and funding. Shifting Sands describes a poorer, more diverse and more urban Idaho and the need for charters to serve a more diverse student body, leading, in part, to our strategy to recruit charter school models that serve high-need students. We believe that all students deserve quality learning opportunities that are not dependent on their zip code.

To create more equitable educational opportunities in Idaho, school choice is a logical solution. Like the Albertson Family Foundation, parents, educators and policymakers should demand the option for our students to grow and learn in a model that best suits the needs of each child.