The Idaho Senate voted against two proposed amendments to a proposal to add an exemption to Idaho's limit on new charter schools for schools aimed at helping underserved populations.
Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, said adding an exemption to the would help Idaho in its efforts to get federal Race to the Top funding. Idaho lost out on the first round of funding, and there has been speculation that the state's cap of six new charter schools could be hurting the state's request for $120 million. Race to the Top applications are scored on a 500 point scale. Charter schools account for 40 of those points. “This is our chance to potentially solve our situation where we are losing points,” Goedde said Thursday.
Goedde's changes to his legislation clarify the intent of loosening the cap. After the first six new charter schools would be approved by the Idaho Public Charter School Commission, only schools for underserved populations could get an exemption to open.
Those who spoke against the amendments were critical of the entire legislation. Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, said writing legislation in response to federal grants is bad public policy. He spoke against the legislation in an education committee meeting March 2.
Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, also voiced concern about seeking additional federal money for schools. “I’m not real comfortable with Race to the Top," he said. "I have some real concerns about the benefits. Yeah, I like the money, but I don’t like the strings.” He also said that while he supports charter schools in Idaho, he opposes expanding them given the state's economic situation. “I have to stand in opposition based on the budgetary constraints that we face.” He said opening more charter schools could lead to drops in students in standard public schools that could be devastating.
“I didn’t see anybody blink when we accepted [stimulus] money last year," Goedde responded. "That saved our bacon.” He also said that the reforms in the Race to the Top grant application, including charter schools and performance bonuses for teachers, are ideas that Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna supports regardless of federal funds. Goedde said that though his changes were defeated, he will continue to work on the plan to loosen the cap on new charter schools. The text of Goedde's legislation is available here.