The Editorial Board of the Idaho Press Tribune made an excellent decision a week ago in drawing attention to the chronic disparity regarding minority student enrollment in Idaho’s charter schools in comparison to their local school districts, and information regarding the Civil Rights Complaint issued by Idaho’s Centro de Communidad Y Justicia (Center for Community and Justice).
However, that particular editorial left the impression that the cause of the disparity was minority parents and students simply not being properly informed that charter schools, as public schools, are a choice for their families as well.
And while dissemination of information to these communities is certainly a required element in solving this problem, it is only one very small fraction of a comprehensive solution; this imbalance requires charters to actually be a “choice” for minority populations, and that requires charter schools to offer genuine minority services that would embrace true inclusion.
That means that charter schools have to offer bus transportation services to make charter schools a “choice” for families juggling multiple jobs that create barriers for them transporting their own children, particularly single parent families. When charter schools such as Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy, the second largest brick and mortar charter in Idaho, fail to offer transportation services to their students, it inherently stops becoming a “choice” for those families.
It means that charter schools must provide free and reduced lunch services to their students, particularly for families relying on these meals for their child’s nutrition. When charter schools like the Academy Public Charter in Pocatello fail to offer free and reduced lunch services to their students, it inherently stops becoming a “choice” for those low-income families.
It requires that charter schools offer true research-based interventions and services for students with disabilities; a special education student has just as much right to a resource teacher, school psychologist, speech/language pathologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, and transition counselors in charter schools as in public schools; a disability, no matter the severity, should never turn a student away from attending a charter.
It demands that charter schools provide materials and services in languages reflective of their community; this means an effort should be made to locate large non-English speaking populations, and make sure that materials are equitably provided to those populations in those languages. While Spanish-speaking populations certainly constitute a sizable demographic, it is also important to remember that Idaho is also home to sizable refugee populations in Boise and Twin Falls that must also be provided an equitable “choice” in student enrollment.
It stipulates that the preference system utilized during “lottery” drawings for student applications be addressed. Between preferences allowed for founder’s children, employee’s children, siblings of children already enrolled, and this year’s new law that gives preference to any child enrolled in any charter in the state ahead of a student that was not enrolled in a charter, few true open “lottery” slots are open for new student enrollment.
If the existing charter is overwhelmingly white, affluent, and English speaking–and the data overwhelmingly indicates charters in Idaho are–then the preferences result in a demographic that simply replicates itself from year to year making it difficult for charters to become more reflective of their surrounding communities.
If we want charter schools to offer opportunity for our students to perform interactions with peers of different ethnicities, languages, incomes, and disabilities as the law mandates, it requires us to make some changes to the existing system. If we want our students to live in largely homogeneous mono-cultures of students exactly like themselves, then leave the system as it is.
It’s time for us to make a positive choice for Idaho’s students.