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Eye On Boise

Civil rights complaint charges Idaho’s charter school enrollment system is discriminatory

A nonprofit that advocates for Idaho Hispanics has filed a federal civil rights complaint against the state and all of Idaho’s public charter schools, charging that the state’s charter school system has evolved into “a separate but unequal public school system that discriminates against students of color.” The Center for Community and Justice, which filed the complaint this week with the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education, says minority students, students with limited English skills, students with disabilities and students from low-income families all are vastly under-represented in Idaho’s publicly funded charter schools, and that the state has ignored its efforts to change that.

“Idaho officials have turned a deaf ear to CCJ’s concerns and refused to engage in any meaningful discussion,” CCJ staff attorney Les Bock, a former state senator, wrote in the complaint. “These officials have suggested the lack of Latino students in Idaho’s charter schools is the fault of the parents; i.e, Latino parents have irresponsibly failed to pursue charter school enrollment for their children and therefore have no right to complain.”

The complaint notes that while Idaho requires a lottery system for charter school enrollment, it also allows numerous groups to enroll prior to the lottery, including children of school founders and employees and their siblings. “More often than not, this leaves very few spaces available for those students who must participate in the lottery,” Bock wrote. The result, he said, is a system that favors students who are “well-connected” and excludes much of the public at large.

The consequences of such a complaint can be severe; if an investigation finds violations of civil rights laws and the state doesn’t voluntarily agree to correct them, the Office of Civil Rights could cut off all federal funds and refer the case to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The complaint names the state of Idaho; the state Department of Education; the state Board of Education; the Idaho Charter School Commission; and all 48 of Idaho’s current charter schools and their boards of directors. Jeff Church, spokesman for state Superintendent of Schools Sherri Ybarra, said, “The Idaho Department of Education is open to a review of the charter school processes to ensure equity, and to ensure that all students have the opportunity to attend an Idaho public charter school regardless of race, color, national origin, ethnicity or disability.” You can read the full complaint here, and read my full story here at

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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