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Idaho Senate signs off on charter school cap removal, measure heads to Otter

Idaho Senate signs off on charter school cap removal, measure heads to Otter

Dustin Hurst
March 15, 2012
Dustin Hurst
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March 15, 2012

The Idaho Senate signed off Thursday on removing a cap to limit the number of charter schools created in the Gem State each year.

Senators passed the bill on a 22-12 vote. The House previously agreed to the bill on a 49-19 tally.

The bill now heads to Gov. Butch Otter’s desk. The governor has not indicated how he might act on the legislation.
Senate Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise, told colleagues on the floor that Idaho’s cap, set at six new charter schools per year, prevents federal and private grants from flowing to the Gem State. Winder cited a letter from the Walton Family Foundation, an education choice organization, which dubbed Idaho as less than charter friendly, a dubious distinction in grant applications.

The legislation would also allow more than one new charter school per year to be organized in a school district.
Critics of the cap removal measure have argued that removing the cap would lead to a free-for-all in charter school creation, possibly hurting local school districts. Winder worked to deflect that argument, noting that all new charter schools are thoroughly examined prior to creation. “It’s a difficult process,” Winder said, explaining that it takes more than two years for a charter school to win approval from the state oversight commission. “It’s a difficult process. It’s not easy.”

Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, countered Winder by arguing that removing the cap creates possible scenarios that could threaten public school funding. “We need a stable approach,” Schmidt said prior to casting his vote. “Maybe this won’t change that. Maybe it will. I think it will.”

Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, said charter schools provide specialized options for youth they might not otherwise see in public schools. “This is about our children,” said Rice.

Senate Education Committee vice chair Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, echoed Rice’s comments, saying that personalization of the schooling experience is critical for youth progression. “Our students … need the ability to attend the school they feel is best for them,” Mortimer said.

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