Charter school popularity rising
Equitable funding still a bone of
by Nancy Cook LauerHONOLULU -- Charter schools have made great
progress since a law gave them more autonomy, but advocates
for the schools want legislators to make their funding more
equitable and remove the cap limiting how many new schools can
The Senate Education Committee heard a
21/2-hour status report Thursday. Most participants praised
the Legislature for creating a charter school review panel to
oversee the formation and operation of charter schools, saying
the new flexibility is leading to record high achievement by
charter school students.
"This past year, you really
took a giant, courageous move forward," said Maunalei Love,
charter school interim director, who said she's visited all
but two of the state's 28 charter schools this year. "The
schools are doing well, even those which had been having some
Committee Chairman Norman Sakamoto said
after the meeting he is prepared to push for more money and
more flexibility in the number of new schools -- if all
parties involved can begin by agreeing what the current
"I want to
continue to press for fair and equitable funding," said
Sakamoto, D-Waimalu, Airport, Salt Lake. "But we need to be
all on the same page."
It's difficult to compare
per-pupil funding between traditional public schools and
charter schools because federal money plays a part in the
traditional public schools. Also, schools share some funding
categories, such as for special education, and buy back
services from the Department of Education.
been improvements in funding, but charter school students are
still woefully underfunded compared to their counterparts in
traditional public schools, said John Thatcher, principal of
Connections New Century Public Charter School in Hilo and
former president of the Hawaii Charter School
He said traditional schools got about $13,500
per pupil this year, compared to $8,100 per pupil for charter
students. Even though charter schools and the DOE are "on the
verge of solving problems that have plagued us from our
beginnings," Thatcher said budgets get cut in the governor's
Office of Budget and Finance.
"We are caught in the crossfire between
political battles that place sound financial planning on the
back burner," Thatcher said. "This is not a budget that trims
the fat. This is a budget that cuts away muscle and bone, and
leaves families that choose the charter option
Charter school advocates also want the
Legislature to lift the cap on how many new "start-up" schools
can be created. Current law allows one new school for each
existing charter school that achieves national accreditation.
That was three this year, Thatcher said, and could be two or
three next year.
Love said 15 of the 40 states that
have charter schools don't cap the number. Hawaii currently
has 6,131 students in the 28 charter schools.
demand for charter schools is showing no sign of letting up,"
Nancy Cook Lauer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.