Renee McKenzie: Idaho’s public schools deserve to be funded equally


February 2, 2014 

Leaders in the Idaho Statehouse recently convened a series of listening sessions and hearings on education reform policy. School choice advocates gathered at rallies across the county to advocate for expanded school choice for every student as part of National School Choice Week, which is just concluding. Our parent members who testified will carry this message as they advocate for specific reforms in Idaho.

The Coalition of Idaho Charter School Families is a statewide parent organization that first formed in 2004 to promote and advocate for public policy that furthers the advancement of charter schools and the innovations in education they represent. By bringing parents and students together and helping them make their voices heard, we work to help every Idaho student gain equal access to the option of enrolling in a public charter school whether it offers instruction in a traditional classroom or a virtual setting.

Barriers to choice come in all shapes in sizes — enrollment caps, grade restrictions, and other arbitrary restrictions all limit choice. And so does unequal funding of charter schools.

As a parent and taxpayer, I believe that every child should be treated equally when it comes to his or her education. However, some charter schools in Idaho are not funded at the same level as traditional public schools. Recent reports reveal that the Idaho Virtual Academy, a statewide virtual public charter school that has been meeting the needs of many Idaho families, faces a funding gap of as much as $1,500 per student compared to traditional schools. It is one of the lowest funded schools in the state.

While many students thrive at their neighborhood public schools, some students enrolled in the Idaho Virtual Academy learn better in alternative education settings. We recognize that virtual learning is not the right fit for every student, but for some students with unique learning challenges, health complications, advanced learning abilities or a variety of other reasons, it is the only option.

Unfortunately, this funding gap has been widening each year and is hurting these students and their committed teachers by increasing class sizes, forcing cuts to math and language classes, and essential career training programs.

This past week’s education events provided the opportunity to correct this funding barrier to school choice. We commend Governor Otter’s attention to this issue and his taskforce demonstrates his commitment to school reform in the state. As the state’s education leaders come together, let’s turn talk into action and by crafting and passing new policies that funds all of Idaho’s public schools equally.

As National School Choice Week sweeps the nation, it benefits our entire state if Idaho can take part as a school choice leader, rather than a follower. Not only will it help our students compete with their peers across the country, it will help our state compete and provide a better future for all of us who love our great state and want to see it thrive for future generations.

Renee McKenzie is the president of the Coalition of Idaho Charter School Families.

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