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Some public school students are more equal than others.

Some public school students are more equal than others.

Mitch Coffman
July 16, 2010

When a district loses students, it’s entitled to a bailout. Not so for public charter schools.

Previously I wrote about Idaho Code 33-1003:

[For] Any school district which has a decrease in total average daily attendance of one percent (1%) of its average daily attendance in the then current school year from the total average daily attendance used for determining the allowance in the educational support program for the school year immediately preceding, the allowance of funds from the educational support program may be based on the average daily attendance of the school year immediately preceding, less one percent (1%).

In other words, if a district loses more than one percent of its student over the summer, it may choose to take last year’s funding minus one percent. The Gooding Joint School District took advantage of this law when its enrollment dropped eleven percent between the 2007 – 2008 and 2008 – 2009 school years. It took 99 percent of 2007 – 2008’s state education funding rather than the lower amount yielded by 2008 – 2009’s enrollment numbers. Idahoans paid the Gooding School district for the equivalent of 117 students who didn’t exist.

Hidden Springs Charter School opened in fall 2002. It was, at the time, the only school in Boise using the popular Harbor Method of schooling. Even though getting to Hidden Springs from most places is a trek, enough families chose to transport their children there that the school obtained the necessary per-pupil funding to operate.

Over time, more Harbor Method schools opened. It’s likely their convenience lessened Hidden Springs’ appeal and families transferred their children. Whatever the reason, fewer students chose Hidden Springs Charter School which put a serious dent in the school’s state entitlement money. Over the summer of 2007 the school lost seven percent of its students generating a funding loss of approximately $250,000.

Hidden Springs Charter School asked the Idaho Department of Education to apply Idaho Code 33-1003 to it. Generally speaking, the Department of Education interprets statutes having to do with school districts as also applying to public charter schools. The Department said the law did not apply in this case and Hidden Springs sued. The judge said the Department’s decision was properly within its authority and didn’t rule on the law. Hidden Springs Charter School ran out of money and ceased operations.

What happened to the children? The Boise School District bought Hidden Springs’ facilities and the school became a Boise District school that continues to use the Harbor Method. The families who stayed there are presumably happy with their decision.

Members of Hidden Springs Charter School thought the Department of Education decision was unfair because charter schoolers are public school students who ought to receive funding on par with their regular district counterparts. However, that doesn’t make school district welfare a good idea. One solution could be to attach an equal amount of public school funding to every child and have the money follow him to the school of his choice. It would be a way to support the schools patrons actually use instead of propping up the ones they aren’t.

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