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Report shows Idaho public charter school development lags

National study identifies Idaho’s inequitable funding model and lack of support for educational opportunity, points to areas for remedy

Idaho lags behind other states in charter school growth, depriving students of educational opportunities, according to a new report. At the same time, charter schools have proven their ability to outperform traditional public schools in key areas. As new and exciting possibilities for high-performing learning options become available, Idaho risks missing out on opportunities to advance student achievement results.

“Idaho has a chance to capitalize on educational innovation that is proving effective, but  the state doesn’t have all the right elements in place,” said Jamie MacMillan, executive director of the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation, which commissioned the report. “If we believe in providing equal access to all students in Idaho, why wouldn’t we want to grow high performing charters, private schools and other learning options?”

The Foundation is committed to bringing more learning choices to Idaho, as a way to remove barriers to student achievement—especially in rural areas. Idaho has 686 public schools, 43 of which are charter schools with a waiting list of approximately 7,000 students. The new report, Idaho in Focus: The School Choice and Digital Learning Landscape highlights the fact that Idaho’s law is in the bottom third of states with charter school laws.

Among the report’s other findings:

 – Idaho’s charter growth is slow compared to other states, despite a removal of the cap on charter schools

– Idaho charter schools out-performed other public schools on 4th and 8th grade reading and math assessments, according to the 2010-11 National Assessment of Educational Progress

– Funding mechanisms and oversight for new charter school development is weak  and inequitable

– Idaho’s rural students lack access to the school choice options found in urban and suburban settings

– Charter schools can improve access to blended learning opportunities, especially in rural areas

A thorough review of Idaho’s school choice and digital learning options was conducted by CH Global Strategies to identify how Idaho’s existing policy and programs compare with other states nationally and regionally, and to recommend strategies to the  Foundation’s board for expanding choices and technology-rich learning environments.

“We’ve found that there is a preponderance of opportunity in other parts of the country, and policies and programs that Idaho could adopt,” said Christina Culver, co-author of the study. “But the system has to be ready. And right now, Idaho’s regulatory and funding mechanisms lag behind the leading charter school states in the country.”

Research has shown that increasing learning opportunities leads to increases in student achievement, Culver said.

“Idaho has many of the elemental ingredients for improving its student opportunity climate, and there are models available that would suit Idaho, including options that can start small but scale up as demand increases,” Culver said. “But the state needs to improve the culture around academic choice as well as the regulatory climate, to take advantage of new learning models that could be replicated in Idaho.”

Other strategies exist to allow new charter operators into Idaho and to create incentives like scholarship tax credits, to allow businesses and individuals to donate money to  designated scholarship organizations. Many of the strategies discussed in the report have successful track records in other states, including those that provide scholarships for low-income students or those with special needs.

To view or download the Idaho in Focus: The School Choice and Digital Learning Landscape, click here.

C/H Global Strategies is a strategic consulting, government markets, and government relations firm that provides advice and services to philanthropic and education industry clients whose business and non-profit success relies on understanding how federal and state policy shapes the education reform marketplace.

 The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation is a Boise-based, private family foundation committed to limitless learning for all Idahoans.  Since 1997, the Foundation has invested more than $500 million to improve education in Idaho.