Public schooling in Idaho has become a tale of two systems. One system contains the 115 traditional districts. The other is Idaho’s system of 40 public charter schools. How these two types of schools are similar and different is important to understand as we mourn the loss of public charter school Nampa Classical Academy.
Public charter schools are free, independent public schools that are held accountable for their finances and academic programs by the entities that let them come into existence, called authorizers. Nampa Classical Academy’s authorizer was the Idaho Public Charter School Commission whose seven volunteer members are appointed by the governor.
Idaho’s charter schools are allowed teaching and curricular flexibility. They may embrace a particular teaching philosophy like the Harbor Method or Montessori, or adopt a classical liberal-arts or Western Civilization-focused curriculum. Charter schools are free to hold class any time of day, any day of the week. They may deliver the entire curriculum virtually – a freedom not enjoyed in cities and states with “line-of-sight” teacher-student rules.
These academic freedoms have been cobbled onto the Byzantine school funding bureaucracy. A partial list of the funding streams public charter schools had better be in if they plan to pay their bills includes:
- Average Daily Attendance (kids attending = money)
- Salary-based apportionment (funding according to where a school’s teachers are located on the salary grid)
- State endowment lands distributions
- Lottery dividends
- Bond levy equalization support funds
- American Recovery and Reinvestment Act federal funds
- Title I federal funds
- Reading and Math Initiative monies
- Etc. etc. ad nauseum
The State Department of Education’s Division of School Choice and the private Idaho Charter School Network exist to help charter schools navigate the public school funding maze. Nampa Classical Academy did not take full advantage of them and they ran out of money. Then they ran out of breaks from their authorizer and the Board of Education. The end result was swift and sure financial accountability.
Nampa Classical contends their authorizer, the Idaho Public Charter School Commission, wouldn’t give them time to fix their financial problems because the Commission was sore about being sued over the right to use religious documents in a public classroom. Maybe. The Commissioners are only human. But if that’s the case, we’ve learned it isn’t prudent for a charter school to tick off the authorizer allowing it to exist.
More than 500 kids will not have a public classical education available to them this year, and that is a tragedy. It is a larger tragedy that those who would teach must instead spend time and creativity navigating the nearly-impenetrable school funding maze. But having public schools means having public school funding accountability, and having public charter schools is better for Idaho than not having them because public charter schools mean more freedom for more individuals. Let’s do what it takes to have even more freedom to teach and learn.