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Legislators listen about school choice in America

Boise, Idaho: Celebrating 25 Years of School Choice in America

From Zero Chance of Passage Blog | By Ember Reichgott Junge
For me, there is no greater privilege than to present the origins of chartering and help dispel the myths of chartering to an audience of legislators, including key education committee leaders. That was the opportunity presented me in Boise, Idaho January 18-19, hosted by the nonprofit organization Bluum, led by Chief Executive Officer Terry Ryan. It was my first state visit of 2016 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the passage of the first charter school law. I was joined by Robert Enlow, President and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, which supports chartering as well as private school choice.
When I asked for a show of hands, I was impressed by the turnout of legislators—over half the room.   When I asked for a show of hands of legislative staff—I was stunned. Not one—there is no legislative staff in Idaho! Where do policymakers get help to create innovative solutions? Where do they get data upon which to base their decisions?
Idaho policymakers tell me they are looking for innovative solutions in a state where per-student spending is second lowest in the nation. Chartering is one opportunity for innovation—in Idaho, 48 charter public schools serve 7% of Idaho’s K-12 enrollment. But chartering in Idaho lacks opportunities in rural areas, and there is great need for more diverse student populations to be served by charter schools.
Legislators I talked with—Republicans and Democrats—shared a common goal of improving student achievement and creating opportunities for learning. But even the most thoughtful legislators can only do so much without proper information and data. That’s where Bluum comes in to fill a significant void. Launched in early 2015 with funding from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation, Bluum’s mission supports K-12 education and chartering in Idaho in four ways:

  • Develop Innovative Leaders
  • Grow Successful School Models
  • Share Research and Learning Innovation
  • Provide School Support and Management Help

Bluum’s nonprofit model goes well beyond the services of a state chartering association. It combines school support and management help with important research and compilation of real data, (something legislators tell me doesn’t exist at the state level). Bluum works to translate the science of learning into meaningful, measurable information for practitioners and lawmakers.
Bluum not only supports development of innovative leaders through a two-year leadership fellowship program, but it supports innovation in charter schools, district schools, and district/charter collaborations. Amen! Innovation is core to chartering and is too frequently forgotten as fundamental to its origins.
How many other states might benefit from such a nonprofit organization, to “Let Learning Grow?”

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