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Bill Would Lift Limits on Idaho Charter Schools

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An Idaho lawmaker has introduced a bill that would allow more charter schools to open to aid underserved students.

The bill unveiled Monday by state Sen. John Goedde aims to revise a state law that now limits the number of new charter schools to six a year.

His bill would provide exemptions for charter schools serving low-income, minority, at-risk and immigrant student populations along with kids who have disabilities or are gifted and talented.

The Coeur d'Alene Republican, however, plans to delay the bill until the federal government offers more assurance that Idaho's current charter school laws won't hurt its chances at $75 million to $120 million in competitive federal grants.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna has told lawmakers the state cap on charter schools initially appeared to threaten Idaho's chances in the U.S. Department of Education's "Race to the Top" contest but now seems to pass muster under final guidelines released late last year.

The U.S. Department of Education previously cautioned states that did not allow charter schools — or placed caps on their growth — that they were jeopardizing their chances at a slice of the $4.35 billion in education stimulus money.

Goedde said he wants further clarification from the federal government about charter schools. About half of Idaho's 115 school districts and 21 charter schools signed onto Idaho's application for Race to the Top, which was sent off last month and proposes spending a large portion of the money on a pilot program to pay teachers based on performance.

There is also funding for a system to better track student achievement and boost opportunities for high school juniors and seniors to earn college credit.

Forty states applied and less than half were expected to win a slice of the $4.3 billion in stimulus money. The award announcements are expected in April.

Several states have rewritten education laws and worked with unions to boost their chances at Race to the Top awards.

Goedde said he proposed the charter school legislation to give lawmakers enough time, if necessary, to change the law before the session ends.

"If, when they critic the Race to the Top grant, our current charter school cap is subject to a loss of points, my guess is that the governor's not going to call a special session for us to change that," Goedde said.

He said he would consider holding the bill in committee until the end of the session nears then moving on it if there is nothing more definitive from the federal government.

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