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Idaho Students Looking At A Re-do After Charter School Falls Short

About 30 high school freshmen and sophomores who attended Odyssey Charter School in Idaho Falls, Idaho, may have to repeat classes -- or even an entire grade -- next year after the Idaho Public Charter School Commission found their fledgling school failed to measure up.

Odyssey opened 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 state's 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," Baysinger said. "But that decision is not finalized.”

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.

But it’s hard to compare Odyssey’s accreditation shortcomings to charter schools in Oregon and Washington. Unlike Idaho, the two states do not require public schools -- including charter schools -- to get independent accreditation, though some seek it voluntarily through the Northwest Accreditation Commission.

About 200 kids in eighth through tenth-grade signed up for the Odyssey Charter School last fall. It ended the year with 165. According to the Idaho Public Charter School Commission, the school received more than $1 million in state funding.

School administrator Karl Peterson said the school has lost some enrollment for the upcoming school year because of the problems with the state. But he said 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.