Idaho currently has two ways of supporting public school facility funding. Charter schools receive a fixed amount per year based on their enrollment and what districts raise in bond elections. The state has allowed districts to run bond elections that need a 2/3rds majority to pass. This uneven playing field does not satisfy the constitutional requirement that education in Idaho be “free, common and uniform”.
My town is blessed with a great public-school district. The district sponsored the first charter school in the state. When another charter school applied to the district for sponsorship, the district deferred. The state charter commission was established and now charter schools are sponsored from Boise, not locally. So, our town has the public-school district, a district charter school and a state commission sponsored charter school.
The state-based charter school recently announced they have plans to build a new facility. This will be funded through a system established by the legislature in 2012. Charter schools receive funding for facilities straight off the top of the state-wide schools budget. The amount is tied to both enrollment and what all schools receive from local bond and levy income for their facilities and will reach a maximum amount (50%).
In 2005 the Idaho Supreme Court declared the way public schools have to raise money for facilities unconstitutional and expected the legislature to solve this problem. The legislature has done nothing to solve this. But they sure solved it for charter schools.
Full disclosure, I was in the Idaho Senate when this was debated and voted on. I voted against this scheme. A colleague posed a question during floor debate: “If this is such a good idea for how to fund facilities, why not extend it to all schools?” There was no answer from the sponsor. But it’s a valid question.
The Supreme Court’s decision that school facility funding is unconstitutional was based on the wide variation from district to district we see in support for facilities. Bond elections are brutal; a high bar to clear and tax bases vary dramatically. The Idaho Constitution requires a common, free and uniform education for all. Automatically giving charter schools a fixed percentage for facilities based on the amount local districts have to sweat blood for is unfair and clearly unconstitutional. Basing all schools’ facility funding on enrollment is very fair and uniform.
We have a solution staring us in the face. There is a legislative interim committee studying the “school funding formula”. Ask them why they haven’t considered this solution. Keep in mind, the vast majority of school funding goes to pay people to teach our kids, not build classrooms. But our current system that takes from paying teachers in all classrooms to help only charter schools with their building needs is unfair, unconstitutional and bogus. Expand the enrollment-based funding for facilities to all schools. This would provide more uniform facilities, lower local property taxes and satisfy our constitutional duty. What’s good for charters schools should be good enough for all. Let’s be fair.