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New state report shows Idaho charter schools strong on academics, but low on poor, minority students

A new state report praises Idaho charter schools for their academic performance, but acknowledges that fewer minority and low-income students attend them, writes Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News. On Wednesday, Idaho’s Public Charter School Commission released its first-ever annual report on charter schools. The State Board of Education panel is the authorizing body for the vast majority of Idaho’s charter schools; the rest answer to local school boards.

The annual report focuses only on the 35 charter schools under the commission’s purview. Among schools examined is the highly rated Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy, which was named Idaho’s most challenging high school in a Washington Post study released this month. The report found that fewer than 2 percent of the academy’s students qualify for free- or reduced-price school lunch; the Coeur d’Alene School District’s overall rate is 40 percent. The academy also has no special education students or students with limited English proficiency, the report found. Richert’s full article is online here.

Ybarra addresses school choice rally, backs charter schools as part of system

Sherri Ybarra

More than 500 people, including hundreds of Idaho charter school students wearing bright-yellow fleece scarves, gathered on the state Capitol steps today for a rally celebration National School Choice Week, and state schools Superintendent Sherri Ybarra offered supportive words. “Instead of pitting charter schools and traditional schools against one another … we must instead build a bridge of communication to one another so that we can take the best from each educational option and create successful, effective options for all,” Ybarra told the crowd.  She said the system will work best when “all of the options available are providing quality, effective education to our children, so that the choice that you as parents must make is not whether one system is better than the other, but simply which of several good options best fits the specific needs of your child.”

She shook hands and visited with students and parents afterward; some held signs saying, “I Trust Parents.” Ybarra said, “We need to get back to the conversations about what works. That was the reason that we created charter schools, so that we can learn from one another.”

The rally was sponsored by an array of groups including the Idaho Charter School Network, the Coalition of Idaho Charter School Families, the Idaho Federation of Independent Schools, Idaho Business for Education, and the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation. Its theme was “Trust Parents,” and it joined similar events around the country; participants marched from the Basque History Museum in downtown Boise to the Capitol for the rally.

School changes coming

Makaylynn Toth, right, makes minute adjustments Wednesday to the obstacles for competition between Lego League teams at Linwood Elementary.

Education is changing rapidly across the nation, and Washington and Idaho are no exception. State standards have become more rigorous, funding issues persist and technology is changing classrooms.

Here are 10 things to watch for in 2015:

1. New state tests for K-12 students in Washington and Idaho. Adopting a new set of state standards based on a nationalized curriculum – Common Core – means new state tests to check students’ learning levels. Full story. Jody Lawrence Turner, SR

Other changes include, more hand held computers for students, more armed resource officers, 2 new charter schools in Spokane, a new elementary in CdA, school remodels, robotics programs etc.

Do you view these changes as positive, negative or a mix of both?

Charter schools get first state payments for buildings, online academy gets the most

Controversial legislation that passed last year gives state funding through a formula to charter schools for their building and facility needs; the first payments have now gone out, reports Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News, and they exceeded estimates at $2.03 million, compared to the estimated $1.4 million. The biggest payment of the batch went to the Idaho Virtual Academy, which has its students learn at home rather than in classrooms; it got $132,330. The new law gives charter schools a per-student amount through a formula based on how much traditional schools raise for buildings through local voter-approved bonds and facility levies. Richert’s full report is online here.

Popular North Idaho charter school to expand, despite district funding concerns

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.


Commission approves expansions that could add 990 charter school seats in coming years

The Idaho Public Charter School Commission has approved up to 990 new charter school seats in the state in the coming years, under proposals from three charter school groups, Idaho Education News reports. Idaho currently has 11,400 students on waiting lists to attend an Idaho charter school. The expansions include more than doubling the size of the North Idaho Stem Academy in Rathdrum, which plans to expand its K-8 program into high school grades; nearly doubling enrollment at Sage International School in Boise; and raising the enrollment cap on Syringa Mountain School, a new K-5 charter school scheduled to open next year in Blaine County. You can read Idaho EdNews’ full report here.

IDVA confirms it outsourced Idaho students’ essays to India for grading in past

Idaho’s largest charter school, the online Idaho Virtual Academy, has confirmed that it sent student essays to India for grading in 2007, Boise State Public Radio reports this morning. The 3,000-student public virtual school contracts with K12 Inc., a for-profit company, for its curriculum and management; K12 Inc. spokesman Jeff Kwitkowski told the public radio station, “It was a pilot program designed to help teachers provide more assistance on reviewing papers. It was six years ago, it was a short pilot program and it ended soon thereafter.”

Other reports suggest more than 3,000 IDVA students’ essays were sent to India, BSPR reports. Though it’s several years old, the matter has gained new attention in Idaho since Travis Manning, a Caldwell teacher, penned an op-ed piece about it published in several Idaho newspapers and online news outlets this fall. Manning told BSPR that after running across references to the 2007 incident, “I thought to myself, huh, I don’t remember this story ever breaking in Idaho about any Idaho online schools outsourcing student essays overseas.”

The public radio station reported that while the matter remained low-profile, Idaho’s Public Charter School Commission wrote to IDVA inquiring about it in 2008, raising concerns about possible violations of student privacy laws. You can read BSPR’s full report here, and Manning’s op-ed here at Idaho EdNews.

Mapping the Vote: Spokane on charter schools

Initiative 1240, which would allow the state to set up as many as 40 charter schools over the next five years, has a slight lead statewide and in Spokane County.

For a map on the state results on I-1240, click here.

For a closer look at the Spokane County vote, click on the PDF document below


Big money continues to roll in to campaigns

With just two weeks left for voters to return their general election ballots, large amounts of money are flowing into some Washington campaigns for top offices and measures that propose major changes to state law.

The state Democratic Party reported a $350,000 contribution Monday to its gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee, who a local poll suggests is tied with Republican Rob McKenna, and campaign disclosure records show is running behind in the money race. . .

A poll of 500 Washington voters conducted by 360 Strategies said McKenna and Inslee are each supported by 46 percent of those surveyed through the weekend. McKenna has raised about $12.1 million and Inslee about $10.6 milllion, although the Democratic former congressman’s totals don’t yet include Monday’s contribution from the state party, or a $93,000 contribution last week.

At this point in the campaign, state law requires candidates and donors to report any contribution of more than $1,000 as a “last-minute contribution” on a special form.  To see the latest update of the PDC last-minute contribution list, click here.

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, go inside the blog

Charter school measure makes November ballot

OLYMPIA — An initiative which will be the fourth attempt to get voter approval for charter schools will be on the November ballot.

Initiative 1240 has enough valid signatures to qualify for the Nov. 6 election, the Secretary of State's office said this afternoon.

Although supporters had a mere 21 days to collect signatures, they turned in about 115,000 more than the 241,000 needed to put an initiative on the ballot. They accomplished that largely with paid signature gatherers, paying almost $2.1 million to a California company, PCI Consultants.

The state Elections Division said a random sampling of the petitions showed a rejection rate of about 16 percent, resulting in I-1240 qualifying as the sixth ballot measure for this fall.

Under the initiative, a charter school would be a public school governed by a special board and operated under a special contract that outlines powers, responsibilities and performance expectations. As many as 40 such schools could be set up in the state over the next five years, either by public school districts or nonprofit organizations. The per-pupil allotment that a public school would get would go to the charter school for its students.

Voters have turned down charter school proposals in 1996, 2000 and 2004.  

Charter school fans spent $2 million for signatures

OLYMPIA — Supporters of a ballot measure to put charter schools on the Washington ballot for the fourth time paid more than $2 million to an out-of-state firm to gather the signatures that virtually assure them of a vote.

Reports filed with the state Public Disclosure Commission show the campaign for Initiative 1240 paid about $2.1 million to PCI Consultants Inc. of Calabasas, Calif. A spokeswoman for the campaign had refused to reveal the amount spent on signature-gathering, or the company that received it, when supporters turned in signatures last Friday.

That expenditure allowed I-1240 to gather about 350,000 signatures, almost 110,000 more  than the minimum required to qualify for the ballot, in a little more than three weeks. That's far more than the cushion recommended by the Secretary of State's office, and makes certification all but certain.

PCI has a long track record of gathering signatures for ballot measures in Washington, receiving a total of more than $8.3 million over the last seven years, campaign disclosulre records show. It was paid to gather signatures last year for I-502, the marijuana legalization proposal on this year's ballot, as well as for an initiative that required more training for home health care workers and one that would require more humane treatment of farm animals. In 2010, it was paid to gather signatures for a proposal to impose an income tax on upper income residents and for one of two plans to end state control of liquor sales.

All but the farm animal initiative reached the ballot. But of the three that went before voters in the last two general elections, only I-1163, the home health care worker proposal, passed.

The $2.1 million may represent a record expense for signatures to get an initiative on the Washington ballot. PDC records show it far exceeds any previous payment to PCI from a client and also outstrips the reported costs of gathering signatures for last year's liquor sales initiative, about $1.12 million.

The signature campaign for the charter schools initiative was bankrolled by some of the big names in Washington's high tech industry, including $1 million from Bill Gates, $100,000 from Paul Allen and $450,000 from members of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos's family.

I-1240 would allow the school districts or nonprofits to open as many as 40 charter schools over five years, which would be held to the same teacher certification and performance requirements as standard public schoos, but exempt from some laws and district policies. The per-pupil allotment from the state would bo to the charter school.

This is grass-roots democracy?

Friday’s deadline for turning in initiatives demonstrated clearly that letting voters approve legislation at the ballot box might still be an exercise of government of the people, but getting a measure on the ballot is all about money.
Of some 55 proposals that were filed this year and a half-dozen or so that made at some level of effort to gather signatures, only two reached the deadline with enough names to make the ballot. Both relied heavily on large infusions of cash from businesses or wealthy donors to pay people to collect those names. ..

To read the rest of this item, go inside the blog.

Charter school initiative to turn in signatures

OLYMPIA — Supporters of a ballot initiative that would allow public school districts to create charter schools will turn in signatures Friday morning.

The Secretary of State's office said this morning the campaign for Initiative 1240 will deliver their petitions to the Elections Division office at 9 a.m. Friday is the last day to turn in signatures for ballot initiatives.

Voters would be asked to approve a proposal similar to one that was introduced with much fanfare in the past legislative session, but never came up for a vote. It would allow the state to form as many as 40 charter schools over the next five years that would be operated as nonprofits with the same academic standards as other public schools but exempt from some regulations on curriculum and budget.

Supporters filed the initiative in May, and after it was reviewed by the attorney general's office and went through court challenges by both sides on the ballot title, signature gathering didn't begin until mid June. They will need about 242,000 valid signatures from registered voters to qualify for the Nov. 6 ballot.

Charter school initiative filed

OLYMPIA — An initiative that would allow the state to form as many as 40 charter schools over the next five years was filed today with the Secretary of State in an effort to get the proposal on the November ballot.

They would be "public charters" which mean they'd be non-profits with the same academic standards as other public schools, but would be exempt from some regulations on curriculum and budget.

The League of Education Voters, which filed the proposal, and its allies have less than two months to gather the 241,153 valid signatures needed to qualify for the ballot. A short time span for most campaigns, although Costco managed to get enough signatures for its "get the state out of the liquor business" initiative in less time last year.

Mark Funk, a campaign spokesman, said the group would use both volunteer and paid-signature collectors to get enough signatures in the short time available. The campaign hasn't raised any money yet, but expects to get contributions from people and groups who have long supported that aspect of education reform, and most money will likely come from individual rather than corporate sources, Funk said.

Washington voters rejected charter schools in 2004, and the Legislature has considered but not passed them since then. Legislation similar to the initiative was introduced with fanfare early in the last legislative session with bipartisan sponsors, but it met with strong opposition from Gov. Chris Gregoire and legislative leaders in both chambers, and eventually died.

Text of the initiative can be found here.

Idaho Charter School Law Ranks High

Item: Idaho's charter school law ranks high/AP

More Info: Idaho now ranks among a dozen states with the strongest charter school laws. That's according to the Center for Education Reform, a school choice advocate based in Washington, D.C. Idaho climbed several notches in the group's annual report, which was released Monday and ranked Idaho 12th among 42 states with laws allowing charter schools.

Question: Do you support the charter school movement in Idaho?

WA Lege Day 4: Fight ahead over charter schools?

OLYMPIA – A bipartisan group of legislators, backed by business and education reform groups, announced a push Thursday for charter schools and new teacher evaluations.
The Washington Education Association immediately questioned where the money would come from for charter schools and how the evaluation systems would be used.

To read the rest of this post or to comment, go inside the blog.

State board narrowly endorses lifting charter school cap, but with limits

Idaho's State Board of Education today endorsed legislation to lift the cap on the number of new charter schools that can be created each year, but the 3-2 vote came only after the proposal was limited to no more than one new charter school per school district. "The concern was that you could cripple a school district if more than one charter school were approved in a year," board spokesman Mark Browning said during the board's meeting at Lewis-Clark State College. "There will be continued work on this, but for now it's been green-lighted." Click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie L. Bonner.

IReporter: $117K For Charter Exec?

At a committee meeting at the Capitol in Boise Thursday, State Board of Education President Richard Westerburg said the organization is requesting $117,000 in state dollars to fund a new full-time employee to carry the additional load caused by new charter schools in the Gem State. The budget figured provided by the board would include salary and benefits/Dustin Hurst, Idaho Reporter. More here.

Question: Do you think the state needs a $117,000-per-year administrator for the charter school commission?

Times-News: Review Charter Schools

(Nampa Charter Academy) has a long history of run-ins with the charter commission, and sued the state after the commission ruled it couldn’t use the Bible in its classes. The school has been buffeted by controversy, dissension and turnover since it opened. The other 35 Idaho charter schools have avoided NCA’s problems, but the issue is serious enough to do what Twin Falls Superintendent of Schools Wiley Dobbs has suggested: a top-to-bottom review of how Idaho charters are — or aren’t — working. That would be timely now because some school districts, including Twin Falls, are considering applying for permission to convert traditional schools to charters because the funding is better/Steve Crump, Twin Falls Times-News. More here.

Question: Should the problems that led to the revocation of the charter for Nampa Charter Academy cause the state to order a top-to-bottom review re: how Idaho’s 35 other charter schools are working?

Poll: Idaho Charter School Freeze?

Should Idaho put a freeze on new charter schools for 3 years?
  • Yes
  • No

Writer: Charter Schools Hurt Public Ed

Item: Charter schools hurt public education/Sheri Thomas, Idaho Statesman

More Info: The year of 2008 marked the 10th anniversary of charter schools in Idaho. Charter schools were intended to be a pilot program in the public school system. They receive public tax dollars just like our public schools, but they are anything but public. The idea of putting competition into a tax-funded program is like having prisons advertise for better accommodations. Charter schools were brought about after vouchers - for tax dollars to go toward private school tuitions - did not pass the federal or state governments. Now it is time to focus on one educational system and not turn education into a business. Our future as a great country depends on it.

Question: Do charter schools hurt or help public education?