By Reader Staff
Idaho charter schools, birthed in 1998, offer students and families choice in public education. Many citizens unfortunately don’t understand charter schools, but in order to provide the best education choice for our youth we need to build our understanding.
According to the Idaho State Department of Education, “Charter schools give parents a choice to sending their children to a school that uses innovative methods to provide a quality education.”
The intention is to provide options for families looking for different methods of instruction which might meet their student’s learning style better than traditional methods.
Charter schools are free public schools which (through law) are held accountable for meeting state and federal academic standards. These schools focus on innovative teaching and learning methods as well as specialized goals. For instance, one charter might emphasize certain subject areas and include theme-based curriculum while another focuses on art-based curriculum. Charter schools, also by law, are not allowed to discriminate on any basis or selectively chose their student population.
Sandpoint’s Forrest Bird Charter School (FBCS) includes grades six-12 and accentuates 21st-century literacy with emphasis on the use of technology. Community is a focal point in collaborative learning environments in which students and instructors work together to achieve goals. Last spring, high school students collectively served thousands of hours of community service work throughout Bonner and Boundary Counties while completing studies that correlated with their chosen service.
Post-secondary learning is encouraged at FBCS, and on- and off-site North Idaho College classes are offered to students seeking dual enrollment credit.
Individual enrichment lessons are achieved through choice and creativity, such as middle school students creating innovations for the Idaho Invention Convention. Fun, enriching activities supplement learning regularly, such as Coeur d’Alene Eagle watch cruises and POAC plays.
FBCS also focuses on family involvement: FACE (Family and Community Engagement) offers bi-monthly meetings for all, and families are encouraged to attend numerous functions and help in schools.
FBCS, like all charter schools in Idaho, is funded with state and federal tax dollars like traditional public schools. A common myth regarding charter schools is that they are all for profit entities. Actually, most charters (FBCS included) are not for profit, placing all governmental funds directly back into the school to cover costs of supplies, personnel, building and other essentials. Idaho law also states that charter schools are not allowed to run local levies to bring more funding to the school. Instead, they rely on donations and/or grants for extra funds. Forrest Bird Charter School, whose name honors the late innovator, Forrest M. Bird, is not funded by the Bird Foundation nor does it receive any funds from local levies. Instead, the school runs off non-local tax dollars and uses fundraisers and grants to help cover additional costs.
Charter schools, usually smaller in size compared to district schools, are limited in enrollment. FBCS is limited to approximately 400 total students, six-12 grades. Enrollment begins with an application process by families the first of February for Fall 2018 admission. Because enrollment is limited, if the number of applications exceeds the number of openings in each grade level, a lottery is conducted. Students not selected through the lottery process are placed on a waiting list. When a spot becomes available, the first student on the wait list is called. Currently, there are approximately 11,000 students total on wait lists across the state.
FBCS offers school tours to families and student shadowing where students are given schedules and follow another student for a day. This gives prospective students the best sense if the charter school meets their learning styles and academic needs. Shadowing and tours can be set up at the front office.
For more information about charter schools, visit the Idaho State Department of Education, Idaho Charter School Network, and Forrest Bird Charter Schools websites.