Children, parents, educators, and administrators involved with charter schools swarmed the front steps of the Capitol Monday to persuade legislators to advance school choice in Idaho.
The group, officially the Coalition of Idaho Charter School Families, came to the Statehouse to lobby lawmakers to remove the cap on the number of new charter schools allowed each year. The cap, which is 6 new schools per year, was set by the Idaho Legislature and has been reached each of the last three years. Demonstrators claimed that while it’s progress to have 12,000 students utilizing charter schools in the state, the 7,000 on the waiting list to get in is just too many.
“Education choice is essential ,” said Briana LeClaire, president of the coalition. “If you can choose a cell phone plan, you should be able to choose your child’s education.” LeClaire said the march correlated with Martin Luther King Jr. Day in that King believed in the principles of freedom and those are the same principles exemplified by charter schools. LeClaire also said 96 precent of parents with children in charter schools are very satisfied with the education provided their children, a number LeClaire believes can’t be achieved by ordinary public schools.
The coalition awarded its annual “Champion of Choice” award to state education Superintendent Tom Luna and former state legislator and current Ada County commissioner Fred Tillman, who LeClaire called “the father of school choice in Idaho.” Following the presentation, Tillman called on the children to stay on the course to success. “You know if you don’t take hold of this opportunity, it will be taken from you,” said Tillman.
Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur D’Alene, praised the parents of charter schools students, saying “it’s the best parents who are concerned with their child’s education.” Nonini said he will work during this legislative session to remove the cap.
Not everyone in attendance showed fondness for public charter schools, however. A lone protester, who asked not to be indentified due to threats to her employment over her political ideology, said charter schools are still government schools and are an expansion of government. She was critical of charter school supporters, saying many of them don’t realize that the charter school option is similar in nature to the pending public option of health care legislation.
In an interview with IdahoReporter.com, Luna gave his support of public charter schools in Idaho, saying he wants to ensure all charter schools in Idaho are set up for success and he will work with legislators to discuss the removal of the cap. Whether or not the cap is removed, Luna said he wants “to accelerate the establishment of charter schools in Idaho.” Idaho has 36 charter schools.
Estimates put rally attendance between 400 and 500 people.