Charter Advocates Cite Survey, Say ‘Idahoans Want a Choice’

As the legislative session starts again this week in Idaho, proponents of charter schools hope that lifting the cap on how many charters can be created each year and improving strategies to help charter schools build or improve facilities will be on the table, writes Kristin Rodine at the Idaho Statesman.

Advocates believe that they have the public on their side. Ken Burgess, a lobbyist for the Idaho Charter School Network, cites a statewide survey by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, which says that 69 percent of participating Idahoans "generally favor public charter schools".

Foundation official Dale Buwalda says the report found that 60 percent of the public generally favors the creation of a system that would offer tax credits for donations to nonprofit groups that distribute private-school scholarships.

"That idea also might surface at the Idaho Legislature this winter," he said.

2,097 Idahoans were surveyed. And while almost all (90 percent) of Idaho children are traditional district school students, nearly 60 percent of parents said that if they could send their children to any school they wanted, they'd choose a different option – with 27 percent of respondents said they'd rather a private school, 22 percent would rather charter schools, 8 percent home-schooling and 2 percent a virtual school.

But charter backers say they are worried about funding. As these schools are funded with state education money, voters can't be asked to approve property tax levies to build or improve schools.

"That means many charters operate out of storefronts or portable buildings; if they build a school, they must borrow the money and use their state funding allocation to make payments on that debt."

"For some charter schools, as much as 25 percent goes to paying for facilities," Budwalda said.

Burgess suggests that gaining charter schools access to the state credit rating so they can get more desirable interest rates on facilities debt would be the best approach to solve this issue.

However, some districts are not keen on the idea, saying that granting new charters would be a mistake as traditional schools reel from budget cuts.

This may affect the outcome of a renewed effort to lift Idaho's six-per-year cap on new charter schools. But Burgess is sure that the demand for new charter schools is high, citing the fact that Idaho has 43 charter schools and around 8,000 students on charter school waiting lists.

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