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Ed Panel Chairman Wants Charter Schools But Bill To Revise Rules To Run Public Schools May Push Aside Charter Issue For This Session Of Legislature

Fred Tilman, the new chairman of the House Education Committee, still wants Idaho to authorize charter schools.

The Boise Republican has been pushing the concept for years, feeling that schools with fewer restrictions than regular public schools can do a better job.

Tilman gained the chairmanship when Twin Falls Republican Ron Black gave it up for a coveted seat on the House Appropriations Committee.

So while Tilman won’t personally push charter schools, he now is in a good position to see the issue gets a good hearing in the House. The big hurdle remains the Senate.

Last session, Tilman managed to win House approval of a bill allowing groups to seek a charter for their own schools. It gave charter schools public funding, based on the per-student amount spent in regular public schools.

But the Senate Education Committee under Republican Gary Schroeder of Moscow made extensive amendments, essentially rewriting the bill before passing it. The House wouldn’t agree to the changes and the bill died.

Opponents feared the existing public school system would suffer if funding were diverted to charter schools.

Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia have authorized charter schools, and about 500 are operating nationwide. Tilman thinks the proposal is worth getting before his colleagues again, even though Schroeder has talked of turning it over to a study committee, which means legislation wouldn’t appear before 1998.

Still, Tilman is optimistic, although it may take time to get new legislation to a vote because the top education issue when the session opens will be the rules used to operate public schools.

The Legislature ordered an extensive rewrite to remove duplicated or outdated regulations. But some of the changes, such as removing the requirement for health and physical education classes, have created controversy.

Tilman will devote most of January to reviewing the rules.

“That will be a major undertaking,” he said. “I’m not really sure how that is going to go. Based on the hearings, it will generate a lot of debate and discussion.”

Tilman also will use his new position to push “running start” programs. They allow qualified high school juniors and seniors to take college courses for credit.

Washington has the program, he said, and that state’s regulations will be the basis for trying to implement it in Idaho.

He wants to look at the entire educational system with the belief that “the more we open the system up, allow more options and choices, the better the system will be.”

Tilman also expects renewed attempts to solve a $700 million backlog in school building needs. The last Legislature couldn’t find an acceptable approach.

Tags: analysis