Lawmakers lectured by charter school
Proponents slam BOE as
by Nancy Cook LauerHONOLULU -- The power struggle between the
Board of Education and the state's charter schools played out
again Thursday before the House Finance
Committee Chairman Marcus Oshiro, D-Wahiawa,
had killed the House version of a bill giving the schools more
independence last month. Thursday evening he deferred the
Senate version, SB 603, but promised to bring it for a vote
next week, before the deadline to move it out of the
Charter school organizers and dozens of students
from most of the state's eight islands crowded into the small
committee room to show their support for more independence for
charter schools. The only opposition came from the Board of
Education and two unions.
"The actions of (the BOE)
have been to stifle the very nature of charter schools as
centers of innovation," said David Rizor, education director
for Volcano School of Arts and Sciences. "Making the system
work requires a much more hands-off approach with an oversight
group committed to promoting success through
Thatcher, coordinator of Connections Public Charter School in
Hilo, was even more blunt.
"Our charter schools have
struggled for seven years under the shackles of incompetent,
oppressive leadership," Thatcher said.
The number of
schools could almost double under a more aggressive charter
school leadership, as there are open slots for three new
startup charter schools and more than 20 that can convert from
traditional public schools.
But infighting between the
BOE and charter schools has led to delays in the approval
process, the firing of the charter school administrator and
accusations of micromanagement.
BOE Chairwoman Karen Knudsen said in
written testimony that the transfer of power is premature and
puts the BOE in the position of accountability without
authority. She also worried about a conflict of
"Panel members are largely made up of
individuals or charter schools who have direct involvement in
charter schools and who may be given responsibility to
oversee, evaluate and determine whether to revoke charters,"
BOE member Cec Heftel, a dissenter to the
majority, told the committee that "the Board of Education
doesn't want to give up control," but the bill will "solve the
problem if the BOE can't interfere with the charter
The Hawaii State Teachers Association and the
Hawaii Government Employees Association said giving the
Charter School Review Panel the authority to approve and
revoke charters appeared unconstitutional.
ambivalent whether a volunteer panel, many of whom have
full-time jobs, will be able to devote the appropriate amount
of time, focus, energy and resources necessary to carry out
all the duties of the charter school authorizer, from
approving new charters and ensuring accountability, to
proactively supporting the charter schools to ensure their
success," said HGEA Deputy Executive Director Randy
That brought a response from Fred Birkett,
chairman of the review panel. He pointed out that panel
members have a collective 20-plus years of experience in
"The point is, we are doing the work,
we are ready to do the work and we are looking forward to
continuing to do the work for quality charter schools,"
Nancy Cook Lauer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.