A popular charter school in Rathdrum, Idaho has been approved to expand from its current K-8 focus into high school grades – over the objections of the local school district, which says the move will funnel away money that now provides more course choices for students in its regular high schools. Lakeland School District officials have high praise for the North Idaho STEM Charter Academy, which focuses on science and math and uses an innovative project-based learning approach. But they say under Idaho’s school funding system, expanding the charter means cutting funding for Lakeland and Timberlake high schools.
“There’s very little recognition of the impact it has on districts when they lose students,” said Tom Taggart, director of business and operations for the Lakeland district. “We actually took that hit last year when they opened and we lost about 130 students to the school. That’s a big hit financially.” Under Idaho law for charter schools, the funding follows the student – so if a family chooses to move a child from a regular school to a charter school, the per-student funding is subtracted from the former and added to the latter. “In other parts of the country, they have some ways to ease the pain as you go through this, to help the district taking the impact,” Taggart said.
At North Idaho STEM, students, parents and staff are excited about the expansion, which will take the two-year-old school’s total enrollment from 315 to 724 over the next nine years; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. Idaho has 48 charter schools, including seven “virtual” schools that offer their instruction online; the charters enroll 17,201 students, 5.8 percent of the state’s public school student population. According to the State Department of Education, more than 11,500 Idaho students are on waiting lists for Idaho charter schools; the North Idaho STEM Charter Academy alone has 200 on its waiting list.