The Idaho Senate signed off Thursday on removing a cap to limit the number of charter schools created in the Gem State each year.
Senators passed the bill on a 22-12 vote. The House previously agreed to the bill on a 49-19 tally.
The bill now heads to Gov. Butch Otter’s desk. The governor has not indicated how he might act on the legislation.
Senate Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise, told colleagues on the floor that Idaho’s cap, set at six new charter schools per year, prevents federal and private grants from flowing to the Gem State. Winder cited a letter from the Walton Family Foundation, an education choice organization, which dubbed Idaho as less than charter friendly, a dubious distinction in grant applications.
The legislation would also allow more than one new charter school per year to be organized in a school district.
Critics of the cap removal measure have argued that removing the cap would lead to a free-for-all in charter school creation, possibly hurting local school districts. Winder worked to deflect that argument, noting that all new charter schools are thoroughly examined prior to creation. “It’s a difficult process,” Winder said, explaining that it takes more than two years for a charter school to win approval from the state oversight commission. “It’s a difficult process. It’s not easy.”
Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, countered Winder by arguing that removing the cap creates possible scenarios that could threaten public school funding. “We need a stable approach,” Schmidt said prior to casting his vote. “Maybe this won’t change that. Maybe it will. I think it will.”
Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, said charter schools provide specialized options for youth they might not otherwise see in public schools. “This is about our children,” said Rice.
Senate Education Committee vice chair Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, echoed Rice’s comments, saying that personalization of the schooling experience is critical for youth progression. “Our students … need the ability to attend the school they feel is best for them,” Mortimer said.