The Senate Education Committee Thursday got its first look at a bill to improve the finances of the state’s charter schools. House Bill 206, which passed in the House of Representatives earlier this week, would provide an increase of state funds for charter schools to spend to fund their facilities.
“This plan was developed by a group of stakeholders,” noted Jason Hancock, deputy chief of staff at the Idaho Department of Education, as he presented the bill to the committee. Under current Idaho law, charter schools receive similar portions of state funding as traditional schools. Yet property tax revenues that are collected by local school districts are only spent on traditional schools, with charter schools prohibited from receiving any portion of them.
Hancock told the committee that groups including the Idaho Association of School Administrators, the Idaho Association of School Boards and the Idaho Charter School Network all had input in the crafting of the bill. He said the intent of the bill is to create funding streams for charter school facilities.
“School districts have the ability to go to voters and ask for school bond levies, yet charter schools cannot levy property taxes,” Hancock told the committee. “Charter schools often have to spend their per-pupil funding streams to pay for their facilities.”
Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, asked Hancock: “Was there ever consideration for creating a revolving loan fund for the charter schools’ facilities funding?”
“Charter schools often have to pay much higher loan interest rates than school districts do,” Hancock replied. “Their loans are secured really with the value of the property itself. We had other experts speak to the group of stakeholders about the financing of charter schools. Frankly, we were told that since there is no specific funding for charter school facilities, there really isn’t much interest in private lending to charter schools.”
Kelly Trudeau, administrator of Compass Charter School in Meridian, testified to the committee that “Compass is one of the fortunate charter schools, in that we are purchasing our own facility.” Trudeau also noted, however, that securing funding was difficult for Compass, and required it to spend revenues that might have otherwise been spent directly on students.
The bill will be reviewed further in the Senate committee on Monday, March 11.
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