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Idaho's 2013 Legislature convened in Boise on January 7. We've put together a guide to the session, including ways to contact your lawmaker, how to get involved, and comprehensive information about the people elected to office.

Idaho Lawmakers Approve More Modest Charter School Law Overhaul

Idaho’s 2013 legislative session is expected to wrap up Thursday. Passing the public education budget has held lawmakers up. Wednesday another of the session’s big education issues cleared its final hurdle before heading to the governor’s desk. But the overhaul of the state’s charter school law is not what backers had hoped it would be.

In recent years Idaho has slipped in a national ranking of charter friendly states. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools now puts Idaho at 32nd. State advocates for the privately run, publicly funded schools pushed two bills this year to bring Idaho more in line with the ideal set by that national group.

“I would argue that we’re likely to jump up to near the top ten,” says Ken Burgess, a lobbyist for the Idaho Charter School Network. He says the new laws will make Idaho more open to charter school growth. That’s despite losing provisions charters wanted such as allowing nonprofits to authorize new charter schools.

In the final version the laws do allow colleges and universities to authorize new schools. And existing schools will be required to renew their charters periodically. But the best thing the new measures do, from the perspective of charter school advocates, is provide money for buildings. It’s about $114 per student the first year. Burgess says the amount is small but the victory is important.

“The fact that the legislature was kind of willing to recognize that charter schools are really a permanent part of the fabric of public education is very satisfying to us,” he says.

Burgess says for a charter school of about 300 students the facilities funding would free up enough money from the rent payment to hire a new teacher. The charter facilities law will cost the state about a $1.4 million the first year. Opponents of the new charter laws say that diverts scarce education money from traditional schools.