Kaua‘i charter schools take quest for ‘funding equity' to State Building

By LESTER CHANG - The Garden Island

Leaders and students from three Kaua‘i-based charter schools specializing in Hawaiian culture and language urged state officials yesterday to support legislation to give charter school students the same funding received by public school students

Ensuring "funding equity" will enable Hawaiian students to get the best education possible, charter school leaders said at a rally outside the State Building Friday.

Many of the students who would benefit from equal funding would be the children of Native Hawaiian residents from Ni‘ihau.

Haunani Seward, director of the Ke Kula Ni‘ihau O Kekaha, Hedy Sullivan, director of the Kula Aupuni Ni‘ihau (KANAKA) and Ipo Torio, executive director of the Kaunikapono Learning Center made their request to Tim Mira and Dera Caberto at Gov. Lingle's liaison office at the state Building.

Kamahalo Kauhane, school board president with the Kaunikapono Learning Center, accompanied Torio to the gathering.

Laurie Yoshida, Gov. Lingle's liaison on Kaua‘i, was on O‘ahu and was not available to receive the contingent.

Charter school leaders also presented to the state officials a letter from the Hawai‘i's Unified Public Charter Schools asking that the law related to charter schools be protected and stressing that Hawai‘i's charter schools be funded fairly.

The organization consists of 27 charter schools statewide, including the three Kaua‘i ones.

"We are not asking for more than what public schools receive," Torio said. "We are here to make a plea to our legislators and to the governor for equity in funding so that our charter schools can go on, not just through the end of the year, but next year, and the next decade."

Torio is the daughter of James Torio, who is working with others from Anahola on a 20acre project in Anahola that is attempting to enable Hawaiians to become economically self-sufficient. The federally-funded project is called "Project Faith."

Ipo Torio said much work has to be done to prepare Hawaiian children for the future, and the parity funding will help her school and other charter schools help Hawaiian children reach that goal.

Sullivan said "that whatever public schools are getting, we want that."

Both Sullivan and Seward estimated individual charter school students receive between $3,500 and $4,000 a year for their education while their public school counterparts receive about $9,000 a year.

Because the parity funding is not there for charter schools now, leaders and families connected with such schools have to apply for grants, secure help of foundations and hold fundraisers to raise funds to cover the day-to-day cost of charter schools, Torio said.

"There is not enough in the current allocation to effectively and efficiently operate a charter school," Torio said.

Yvonne Gonsalves, a teacher at Kula Aupuni Niihau, said the staging of rallies in front of the State Building on Kaua‘i, State Capitol on O‘ahu and of government buildings on various islands was "right."

"Money would help the charter schools a lot," she said. "I think the government should be fair and equal with charter schools."

Kawaiola Mawae Jassay, a 10th grade student with the Ke Kula Ni‘ihau O Kekaha, said participation in the school has enabled him to get a better handle on the use of the English language, an achievement that will enable him to lead a fuller life beyond Ni‘ihau.

"We love our charter school, because they (Seward, school instructors and supporters of the program) helped us a lot," he told Mira and Caberto.

In addressing the two state officials, Ka‘ehu Kanahele, an 11th grader at Ke Kula Ni‘ihau O Kekaha, said being with other Hawaiian children from other charter schools on Kaua‘i filled her with pride in being Hawaiian.

"We work together and we are family," she said in Hawaiian, although she speaks English fluently.

The Ke Kula Ni‘ihau O Kekaha and Kula Aupini Niihau (KANAKA) both serve students from Ni‘ihau, although their academic focus is different.

The Ke Kula Ni‘ihau O Kekaha serves students from the preschool level to the 12th grade, and currently has 45 students.

Preschool students are exclusively taught the Ni‘ihau Hawaiian dialect up to the third grade, and beginning in the fourth grade, they are taught English "in a formal way," Seward said.

Ni‘ihau is the last community in Hawai‘i where residents "speak the native language," she said. "We need to malama (to take care or preserve) this, this idea and ideal."

The school operates within the old Kekaha Armory Building.

On the other hand, the orientation of the Kula Aupuni Niihau (KANAKA) is that "we are bilingual, we introduce English from grades K (kindergarten) on," Sullivan said. Both types of school serve Native Hawaiian children and give their parents a choice in the type of education they want for their children, Sullivan said.

The school operates in rented space within a one-time plantation building in Kekaha.

In total, about 80 students from the three charter schools gathered for the rally.

To applause from other students and residents who attended the protest, students from each of the three charter schools performed hula and mele.

  • Lester Chang, staff writer, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or lchang@pulitzer.