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Board reconsiders, moves plan to lift charter cap

The state Board of Education has voted in favor of 2012 legislation intended to lift Idaho’s cap on the number of new charter schools allowed each year.

The board, meeting Oct. 20 in Lewiston, voted 3-2 on a motion throwing its support behind efforts to strike a provision in state law that limits the number of new charter schools to six per year.

But getting the board’s support for a roll back didn’t come easy.

Earlier Thursday, the board voted 3-3 against legislative efforts to strike the cap amid concerns unchecked growth in charter schools would put traditional public schools at a competitive disadvantage.

Hours later, supporters offered a revised proposal, one that removed language that would have allowed more than one charter school to open within the boundaries of a public school district.

“The concern was that you could cripple a school district if more than one charter school were approved in a year,” Browning said during the board’s meeting at Lewis-Clark State College. “There will be continued work on this, but for now it’s been green-lighted.”

The plan passed the second vote 5-1 behind support from trustees Milford Terrell, Ken Edmunds, Rod Lewis and public schools chief Tom Luna. It also carried the support of board president Richard Westerberg, who voted against it the first time.

The state law allowing public charter schools was passed in 1998 and since then, more than 40 have been established by teachers, parents and community members. Several efforts to lift Idaho’s charter school cap have so far failed in the Idaho Legislature.

Earlier this year, Rep. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, introduced a bill to do away with the cap, but House Democrats led the charge to kill it and staged a protest over promotional items — mainly bright yellow scarves with pro-charter school slogans — that were passed out to lawmakers before a floor vote.

Efforts to revive the legislation in the final days and hours of the session were fruitless and House Speaker Lawerence Denney used his final remarks of the 2011 session to apologize for the dustup that became known as the “scarf incident.”

At the board meeting Thursday, board president Richard Westerberg and trustees Emma Atchley and Bill Goesling, a former chairman of the Idaho Public Charter School Commission, argued that lifting the cap could put some traditional schools at a disadvantage.

Goesling said traditional public school districts could be threatened financially if they lose more students to a rapid number of charter schools, which are funded with public money but given more freedom in how they operate.

“My concern is, again, we are developing two systems of education,” Goesling said.

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