Thursday, April 18, 2002


Charters getting
overlooked funds


The $2.5 million in federal
funds had been sitting for
months in Washington, D.C.

By Lisa Asato


About $2.5 million in federal funds for Hawaii charter schools has been sitting in Washington, D.C., for months because the state did not know it was there.

"I had no knowledge of it," said Chuck Higgins, state Department of Education public charter school specialist, who administers the federal grants for the schools.

Higgins said notices of the funds went out last summer or fall, but he found out about them in February while inquiring about a separate grant.

The supplemental funds, part of a three-year $11.9 million grant, will be "drawn down" today from Washington, he said. Twenty-three charter schools will be receiving a $103,000 check via certified mail by next Friday, he said.

"They'll get that immediately," he said.

Also by next Friday, the state will release $17,000 to $263,000 each to 22 charter schools based on new per-pupil allocations figured by the state auditor last month, he said.

Those funds amount to $588 per student on Oahu and $567 per student on neighbor islands.

Charter schools are publicly funded schools that are free from most regulations except in areas like collective bargaining and health and safety.

They are held accountable for student performance and funding through a contract or charter with the Board of Education.

"This promise of next week doesn't mean anything anymore," said Ku Kahakalau, director of Kanu O Ka Aina New Century Public Charter School, who said she was not surprised by the miscommunication at the state office.

Charter schools are still waiting for $900 of their original $2,997 per-pupil allocation for the year, Kahakalau said, adding: "Give us the $900 first. That's more than $500."

John Thatcher, the supervising teacher at Connections New Century Charter School, said the $100,000 means a lot for his school, which has had to decide between textbooks and constructing walls between classrooms.

"It's coming out now. That's the important thing," said Thatcher, who is also president of the Hawaii Association of Charter Schools.

Higgins said schools receiving the federal funds will also get about $3,000 each to attend a mandatory conference for charter schools in June held by the U.S. Education Department.

Higgins said this is the first time in three years the federal government has approved the Department of Education's request for supplemental funding.