Charter schools will be able to request money for facilities under a law signed Wednesday.
Charter schools have long complained that they've had to pay for buildings out of their per-pupil funding, unlike state-run public schools that have money set aside specifically for capital improvement projects. Often starting from scratch, many charter schools have been housed in make-do and sometimes unpermitted structures.
Gov. Linda Lingle's signature on the bill is good news to John Thatcher, principal at Connections Public Charter School in Hilo. He's been trying to figure out where to put his high school students next year now that the county is cracking down on the school's use of rented facilities at Nani Mau Gardens. The gardens lack a special use permit for the school's operations.
However, whether the new law will actual translate into facilities money for charters is a big if, given the current economic crunch, Thatcher said.
"We'll see next year if they take it seriously," he said. "But to have the vehicle for facilities funding written into the law is important."
The law also directs the Charter School Review Panel to survey all charter schools to determine what facilities are lacking and come up with a list of needs. The list is supposed to help the panel decide how to distribute facilities money.
The list must include such expenses as rent, leases, facilities purchases, repairs and maintenance.
"Many legislators felt that if the state is going to provide facilities support, they want to have a better idea what the facilities are," said Roger McKeague, assistant to Charter School Executive Director Maunalei Love.
Act 86 also directs the Charter School Administrative Office to request at least as much per-pupil funding as regular schools receive -- though it doesn't require the Legislature to fund charter schools at that level. Charters claim their per-pupil allocation is consistently below levels given out to regular schools.
"We're very happy," McKeague said. "We've tried for years and years to get this into law. Now that it's a statute, it gives us a starting point."