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Bill helps charter schools with bonds

Fri., March 16, 2012

BOISE – A proposal advanced Thursday by an Idaho House committee would help charter schools with the cost of bonding for buildings to house their students.

Republican Rep. Reed DeMordaunt’s measure aims to help level the playing field for the state’s public charter schools, he said. Unlike traditional schools, they can’t get money from property taxes to buy buildings. Also, charter schools have to borrow at higher interest rates.

DeMordaunt’s legislation would allow charter schools that raise money for buildings by issuing bonds to get help from the state in repaying their interest through a program now available to traditional school districts. Idaho’s charter schools would receive funding to cover at least 10 percent of their annual interest payment under the bill.

“We’re not paying on principal, it’s just the interest payment,” said DeMordaunt, of Eagle.

By including charter schools, which are funded with public money but given more freedom in how they operate, lawmakers anticipate the cost of the Bond Levy Equalization program will increase by $370,000 next year.

Republicans on the panel voted to send the measure to the full House.

But the bill moves forward amid opposition from Democrats who argued that expanding the program to charter schools puts state taxpayers on the hook for decisions made by a tiny fraction of voters, those being charter school board members who approve the bonding for facilities.

Idaho is currently using taxpayer money to help school districts repay voter-approved bonds, said Rep. Brian Cronin, of Boise.

“With this bill, would we not be placing the vast majority of taxpayers, voters, on the hook for decisions that are made by a very tiny fraction of the voters?” Cronin said.


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