A Mission to Expand Ways to Learn in Idaho

Every state and community has a different set of challenges when it comes to education. For the largely rural communities of Idaho, the most pressing problem is making sure there are enough quality schools to accommodate the growing population. While still sparsely populated with less than 2 million people across the state, the population of Idaho has increased by nearly 25% over the last decade, with the capital Boise representing one of the fastest growing regions in the entire country.

Enter the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, a private family foundation with a vision to "make Idaho a place to learn, thrive and prosper." For 50+ years the Albertson Foundation has pursued this vision through a combination of grants, investments and other types of operational support. The foundation's leaders continue to firmly believe in the power of education as a path to prosperity, but for decades were disgruntled with the lack of progress on improving the quality of education in Idaho. To directly address this problem, the Albertson Foundation looked towards the potential of impact investments to support the public charter school sector in Idaho.

Working in collaboration with school choice experts and local officials, the team at the Albertson Foundation devised a multi-year plan to invest more capital and resources into new and existing public charter schools. This plan included three major focus areas: (1) making grants earmarked for paid fellowships for future leaders to start charter schools, (2) making impact investments at socially motivated rates of return to help fund charter school facility construction and expansion, and (3) working with local and state government officials to create unique loan guarantees (known as moral obligation bonds) to make it easier for charter schools to raise capital at lower interest rates. This three-pronged approach of grants, investments, and leveraging the public sector allows for innovative ways to address the challenge of education access in Idaho.

The plan required a centerpiece in the form of Bluum, an Idaho-based nonprofit founded in 2015 to "lead the way in creating new high-performing school options for the children of Idaho who aren't receiving what they need from their current educational experience." With the support of an impact investment from the Albertson Foundation, Bluum is on track to create 20,000 new high-performing charter, private and innovative public school seats by 2024. Bluum helps to coordinate the on-the-ground activities of all these different organizations, including by partnering with the state to secure a federal grant to start more charter schools.

In the last 6 years, the Albertson Foundation has provided more than $30 million to Bluum and other similar organizations, including $28.7 million in recoverable grants and $2.75 million in leader's fellowship grants. Of the $28.7 million, approximately a third has already been returned at a 3% interest rate. This means the money can be recycled back into the program to fund even more schools and benefit even more students.

To date, the Albertson Foundation has directly funded the opening of 25 school choice models offering as many as 10,000 seats for students. While it will be a few years before there is enough statistical data to comprehensively show how these public charter schools performed, the initial data suggests these schools are among the highest-performing in the state. The Albertson Foundation plans to continue to track and report on success metrics like student graduation rates, academic performance, student engagement, matriculation rates, and the demographic composition of the student body.

As more public charter schools open their doors in Idaho, more students will have an opportunity to enjoy a great educational experience.