The League of Women Voters of Idaho supports public oversight through elected officials and officers in the formation, governance, and operation of charter schools; believes charter schools should be in legal compliance from the petitioning process through operation; supports fairness in the selection process for charter school attendance to ensure equal access; supports limiting enrollment in virtual schools to Idaho students unless there is compliance with a compact between states for compensation; supports the requirement that charter schools, including virtual schools, must meet the same applicable state education and accreditation standards as traditional public schools and that materials and methods used in charter schools should be appropriate and available for use in any public school; believes that charter schools should be held accountable for their financial activities by all local and state entities charged with oversight responsibilities; and supports compensation from the state to chartering entities for their oversight of charter schools.
The delegates to the League of Women Voters of Idaho Convention of 2005 voted to study Charter Schools and Virtual Academies, including but not limited to financial and academic accountability, curriculum, and the impact on the local school districts and student achievement. This study was an extension of the League’s existing education position, undertaken so that action could be taken on charter and virtual schools, a new development in education.
A Resource Committee provided a study guide and background information on specific topics to local Leagues. Charter School Study Committees in these Leagues researched their assigned topics, and their work was combined by the Resource Committee into a comprehensive report covering the following topics: Governance and Operation; Student Selection and Demographics; Academic Accountability; and Financial Accountability. This report was used by the study committees in local Leagues in preparation for membership consensus meetings.
This position, resulting from the study and consensus process in Local Leagues, allows the League of Women Voters of Idaho to work with legislators and administrators to achieve the best possible governance of charter schools and virtual schools in Idaho. (Adopted in March of 2007)
The Legislature of the State of Idaho passed legislation in 1998 to allow the establishment of charter schools in Idaho. The stated purpose of charter schools was to experiment with different teaching methods and curriculum with a student population that is there by choice, with the expectation that successful methodologies would be incorporated into the traditional public schools. Charter schools are publicly funded, are non-discriminatory and non-sectarian.
In its study of charter and virtual schools, the League of Women Voters of Idaho looked at the many aspects of these schools, including the governance and operation, academic and financial accountability, and the state’s role in financing and overseeing the establishment and operation of the schools. It is the issues regarding how the state approves and oversees charter schools that the League seeks to address in this position statement.
Governance and Operation
The League of Women Voters of Idaho believes that the Idaho Department of Education should have the power to require that a charter school petition be in compliance with the Sufficiency Review before the petition is presented to the chartering entity for approval.
While the founders of the charter school might be the original board of directors, future members should be elected by the parents of children in the school. The process would allow for the inclusion of parents and guardians of students, members of the community with expertise in business and law, as well as a non-voting ex-officio member from the chartering entity. Members of the board of directors should be bound by the State of Idaho Code of Ethics. For example, no one with a financial interest in the school or its curriculum should serve on the board. The process of selecting the board of directors must be included in the Articles of Incorporation for the non-profit charter school and included in the petition.
Members of the chartering entities, whether local School Boards or the Charter Commission, should be accountable to the public. Election could be an issue primarily in the case of the Charter School Commission, since members of local School Boards are already publicly elected.
To minimize conflict of interest issues and promote independent oversight of the charter school, the board of the chartering entity and the board of directors of the charter school should not be one and the same.
Student Selection and Demographics
To ensure fairness in selection, and promote diverse demographics in charter schools, the lottery for places in a charter school should not be based on any specific information about the applicants. An identification number that corresponds to the student’s application and the grade level of the student are the only items of information that should be available to anyone prior to the lottery. The specific information on the applicant would be accessible only after the lottery has taken place.
A qualified independent third party such as a member of the local school district board of trustees, or a representative of the Idaho State Department of Education should conduct the lottery process, which includes the drawing of the names, the assignment of codes for priority placement, and preparation of the official attendance list. Representatives of the charter school and the chartering entity could provide oversight.
Only Idaho residents should be eligible for enrollment in Idaho virtual schools since Idaho taxpayers fund the enterprise. Out-of-state students could be accepted if Idaho is compensated by the students’ states or school districts of residence. Traditional public schools already have compact agreement with other states which permit such compensation, and those compacts could be extended to virtual schools as well.
Charter and virtual schools must be accountable in terms of stated learning objectives, methods of assessment and reporting of assessment results. Curriculum materials should be evaluated by the Department of Education for appropriateness and availability to traditional schools, and for their support of the charter school goals and state education standards. Materials and methods used in a charter school should be appropriate for use in a traditional school.
Because accreditation standards for traditional schools and brick and mortar charter schools don’t fit virtual schools, state accreditation standards should be developed for virtual schools. The standards for teachers and administrators should be at least as rigorous as those for other public schools.
Charter and virtual schools must be accountable for their financial activities to their chartering entities and to all other offices of the state government responsible for their financial oversight.
Chartering entities incur additional expenses in overseeing charter schools and should, therefore, be given financial compensation by the Department of Education to cover those expenses.