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Thursday, July 2, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Idaho public charter schools discriminate against students of color, complaint says

BOISE – 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 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,” the advocacy group’s staff attorney, Les Bock, a former state senator, wrote in the complaint.

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.

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.”

The Idaho complaint cites a recent annual report from the Idaho Charter School Commission that examined the 35 charter schools; it concluded the schools were strong on academic performance but that fewer minority and low-income students attend them compared with their surrounding districts.

Among schools examined in the report was the highly rated Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy; it found the academy had no special education students or students with limited English proficiency, and that fewer than 2 percent of the academy’s students qualified for free- or reduced-price school lunch, compared with the Coeur d’Alene School District’s overall rate of 40 percent.

Statewide, among the 35 charter schools, 90 percent had a lower percentage of nonwhite students than their surrounding district; 87 percent had a lower percentage with limited English proficiency; 55 percent had a lower percentage of special education students; and 77 percent had a lower percentage of students who qualify for free- or reduced-price school lunch.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article included an inaccurate headline.

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