"I'm asking each of you here to stand up with me and support the real future of education, and to vote no on this bill," said Rep. Sue Chew, D-Boise, in opposition to House Bill 206. The legislation nonetheless passed the House, 42-27, on Monday.
Under current Idaho law, charter schools receive similar portions of state funding as traditional schools. However, 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.
HB 206 would, over time, allow charter schools to participate in small portions of local property tax revenues to help pay for their school facilities.
"This was a huge step to get to the future of education," noted Don Keller, executive director of Sage International Charter School in Boise. "I think this bill, more than any others as of late, will help to reform public education in Idaho for the betterment of all our students."
"I'm very concerned about some of the things I'm hearing," commented Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby. "We have a law in this state that allows public charter schools, and we have a responsibility to be funding them."
But the funding mechanism provided for in the bill was a problem for some legislators. The bill authorizes a state match formula that one lawmaker called "piggybacking." Rep, Lynn Luker, R-Boise, said the legislation is "piggybacking on people who go to the polls to vote on a bond for their school district, and then there's a hidden cost that comes out of the general fund."
However, the chairman of the House Education Committee, Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, said charter schools are in a "dire situation" in needing additional funds to remain open.
The bill was carried to the floor by Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls. On Feb. 26, during a meeting of the House Education Committee, Clow made some very specific inquiries about the proposal to Jason Hancock, deputy chief of staff for the Idaho Department of Education, who was presenting the bill before the committee.
"Can we be assured that this will not mean less funds for education?" Clow asked Hancock during testimony.
Hancock responded that the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) establishes education funding budgets, and that HB 206 would not alter JFAC's budgeting procedures.