As a college intern for then Idaho state Sen. Terry Sverdston, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, I worked on an issue regarding transfer students. I learned that schools receiving these students did not get funding until the next fiscal year. At the time, in 1987, the amount of money involved was so low nothing was done.
Imagine my surprise last year when I learned the Coalition of Idaho Charter School Families was supporting funding for schools who receive students during the school year. What was a small problem in 1987 had become a big problem by 2015. These days there are thousands of “mobile students” because there is more school choice and parents and students frequently decide to change schools to meet their needs during the school year.
One school, the Idaho Virtual Academy, starts the year with about 2,000 students. For each of these students, the academy provides a computer and all the textbooks, workbooks and reading material for an entire year of course work. The academy’s costs per student are approximately the same for all of their students, no matter when they enroll.
Unfortunately, the state of Idaho does not pay the academy for the complete cost for “mobile students.” By January of each school year, about 500 new students transfer to Idaho Virtual Academy. The policy creates a shortfall of approximately $1.8 million of the $2.5 million in costs associated with adding those students. It doesn’t quite put them out of business, but it certainly makes life difficult.
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The Idaho Department of Education and State Board of Education studied this issue for years. Whenever they brought “stakeholders” together to talk about it, it became clear the stakeholders were only interested in keeping the status quo. After all, the schools the students were leaving weren’t losing any money. The funding stayed at the school where the student was enrolled in August. If a student moved to another school, the original school had the same money and lower costs.
After many years of working on this issue, the charter school coalition asked a handful of dedicated school-choice legislators to help resolve the matter in 2015. Their bill passed the legislature, but it was vetoed. In 2016, those dedicated legislators came back with a modified bill that passed the legislature and was signed by the governor.
The Coalition of Idaho Charter School Families sends a big thank you to the legislators who pushed this needed legislation through the Legislature. Sen. Sverdston is retired now but still an active leader in Idaho as a member of the Idaho Forest Owners Association board of directors in Cataldo. I think he would be proud of inspiring my volunteerism on this issue.
By the way, if you support charter schools, join us. I was so impressed with the coalition I joined the board of directors! Go to idchartercoalition.org/join/, sign up with our organization, and let us know if you want to be on our board.
Tom LeClaire is president of the Coalition of Idaho Charter School Families.