Coalition of Idaho Charter School Families
Hello Mr. Chairman and Members of the Idaho Public Charter School Commission. My name is Tom LeClaire and I am President of the Coalition of Idaho Charter Schools Families. Thank you for inviting our organization to speak with you today.
We are very concerned with the impact of the current efforts of the IPCSC staff to add more regulatory oversight to the already heavily regulated charter schools in Idaho. The legislative intent, provided below, is clear as to what the legislators wanted and that is what the PCSC should follow. We strongly support these statements.
33-5202. Legislative intent. It is the intent of the legislature to provide opportunities for teachers, parents, students and community members to establish and maintain public charter schools which operate independently from the existing traditional school district structure but within the existing public school system as a method to accomplish any of the following:
(1) Improve student learning;
(2) Increase learning opportunities for all students, with special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for students;
(3) Include the use of different and innovative teaching methods;
(4) Utilize virtual distance learning and on-line learning;
(5) Create new professional opportunities for teachers, including the opportunity to be responsible for the learning program at the school site;
(6) Provide parents and students with expanded choices in the types of educational opportunities that are available within the public school system;
(7) Hold the schools established under this chapter accountable for meeting measurable student educational standards.
Unfortunately, the simplicity of the legislative intent language has, over time, evolved into a quagmire of different Rules that are being written by Commission staff with little or no input from the schools that will have to comply with them. Charter schools go through rigorous accreditation by professional, experienced individuals. Accreditation plus state standards are already in place for ALL schools, is the appropriate yardstick for charters. No need for all the extra and discretionary burdens that the Commission staff is proposing. We need to get this conversation on the table, because what the Commission staff is doing, is saying that we don’t want to be accountable. That is not true.
#7 of the legislative intent is addressed in State Board of Education Rules Governing Thoroughness. The introduction to the “Accountability Rule in the Rules Governing Thoroughness” says this, "School district, charter school district and public charter school accountability will be based on multiple measures aimed at providing meaningful data showing progress toward interim and long-term goals set by the State Board of Education for student achievement and school improvement. The state accountability framework will be used to meet both state and federal school accountability requirements and will be broken up by school category and include measures of student academic achievement and school quality as determined by the State Board of Education." This existing rule includes ISAT proficiency, ISAT growth, graduation rates, college and career readiness, and more – everything included in the performance framework.
Idaho Charter organizations find that as the PCSC adds criteria to this rule and does more extensive evaluating of charter schools it creates a hostile regulatory climate for charters. We think the new auditing and possible closing of charter schools goes way beyond the Legislature's intentions and is unnecessary. Remember that charter schools were created by the Idaho Legislature due to parental demand for more school choice. Parents are the original stakeholders of charter school law.
The best accountability measure to determine whether a charter school should stay open is the level of parental support. If parents choose to enroll their students at a rate that will sustain the school financially, and the school is meeting state and federal requirements, then the school should stay open. Threatening to close charter school based on burdensome and unfair criteria is an injustice to the parents of the charter school's students and goes against the original legislative intent of charter schools.
In conclusion —data shows that most Idahoans support charter schools when they are described in concept, and most Idahoans who know there’s a charter schools in their area believe it to be better than the regular public school by a two to one margin. Idahoans are most enthusiastic (61%) to hear that charters “can specialize in teaching students who have specific interests and talents.” Forty percent strongly approve of encouraging successful charter schools to replicate in communities whose public schools are failing; another 33% somewhat approve. In fact 54% of Idahoans who report having a charter school in their area think they outperform the regular public schools. The members of the Coalition of Idaho Charter School Families urges the Commission members to work closely with us on these issues.
Again, I thank you for the opportunity to come before the Commissioners. We hope this can begin a period of more helpful communication and progress for Idaho’s Public Charter Schools.
Coalition of Idaho Charter School Families
A few other specific concerns expressed by teachers, parents and individuals, are elaborated below.
- The Commission procedures for material submission, testifying and communication do not promote transparency and openness, and are inconsistent with both the spirit and the practice of other state agencies in their interactions with the public and the regulated community.
- The commission’s staff practices and procedures stifle communication and transparency with the schools they regulate and the public, but more concerning, they also hinder, and likely prevent “due process” for the schools. Communication with commissioners is always filtered through staff, rather than directly from those providing input, and the timelines for data submission prevents any meaningful input directly from schools, while ensuring that staff gets the outcome they want.
- Commission procedures should mirror what is required by state code, and no more -- requiring charters to meet the same standards required of all schools by the State Department of Education and accreditation as required of charters. Charters should not be required to also meet additional measures, often discretionary, that are being proposed by Commission staff in the current performance framework draft, which the commission will be asked to approve in May, and which exceed state standards.
- The Commission should return to the original intent: serve the student, provide educational choice, and reduce bureaucracy for all schools that meet state standards.
- We, the Charter parents, teachers, and students ask the members of the Charter School Commission to please help us forge a path forward to simplify and streamline the processes that charters operate under with regard to the Commission. We agreed to work on improving the environment for charters over the summer with the intent of crafting legislation for 2018. We are very pleased to have you still at the helm to help guide this process to the benefit of schools, students and parent choice.
If you have any thoughts or suggestions, feelfree to send a message to the Idaho Charter School Commission --(now their information is on the site below):
Director: Tamara Baysinger
Program Manager: Kirsten Pochop
Charter Schools Accountability Program Manager: Jennifer Barbeau
Administrative Assistant: Chelsea Cantrell
Lastly, later this week, The Coalition will announce the May “End of School Event”!!
If you have a suggestion, call me at 208-859-9656!!!