About 30 high school freshmen and sophomores who attended a charter school in eastern Idaho may have to repeat classes, or even an entire grade, next year. A state commission found their fledgling school failed to measure up.
Odyssey Charter School opened in Idaho Falls at the beginning of the year with the promise that it would replace worksheets with a hands-on, project-based learning experience. The school says it quickly developed a loyal following.
But an outside accreditation body recently found a laundry list of problems at the school - like a 70 percent teacher turnover rate, inadequate special education services and a $250,000 accounting error.
The director of the Idaho Public Charter School Commission, Tamara Baysinger, said even if the school does fix the problems, last year’s high school courses cannot be accredited retroactively. Local school districts won’t recognize most of the credits of students who transfer from Odyssey.
“One district did indicate that they might consider accepting the elective credits but not the core credits to help families out, but that decision is not finalized,” Baysinger said.
About 30 charters in Oregon have closed in the last decade. But they were mostly voluntary closures for financial reasons. The first charter school in Washington opens this fall in the Seattle area.
It’s hard to compare Odyssey’s accreditation shortcomings to charter schools in Idaho’s western neighbors. Unlike Idaho, Oregon and Washington do not require public schools - including charter schools - to get independent accreditation, though some seek it voluntarily through the Northwest Accreditation Commission. Also, each state has its own process and set of requirements for authorizing charter schools.
About 200 kids in grades 8 through 10 signed up for the Odyssey Charter School last fall. It ended the year with 165. The school received more than $1 million in state funding, according to the Idaho Public Charter School Commission.
School administrator Karl Peterson says the school has lost some enrollment for the upcoming school year because of the problems with the state. But he says parents are taking a “wait and see” attitude before pulling students out. Many of the problems, according to Peterson, were documentation issues that have been resolved.
Idaho is scheduled to decide in August whether to revoke Odyssey’s charter altogether.
An annual survey by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers found that the closure rate for charter schools in 2013 was 3.3 percent.
Copyright 2014 Northwest News Network