Law helps charter schools
But advocates say funding's still too
By HUNTER BISHOPState
charter schools should be getting more money this year under a bill
signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Linda Lingle, but charter school
administrators are still not jumping with joy.
The new law is
good news for the charter schools, said Jim Shon, director of the
state Charter Schools Administrative Office, in that it will provide
equitable and stable funding for the state's 27 charter schools.
More important, the law gives charter schools recognition and
respect, and provides accountability necessary for charter schools
to move forward, he said.
But charter school advocates
complain that the state Department of Education is still providing
fewer dollars for charter schools than for students in regular
"It's progress, but we still have a long way to go
for equity," said John Thatcher, principal of Connections Public
schools were authorized by the state Legislature in 1999 to provide
creative alternatives to the regular public school classrooms for
The new law primarily benefits charter schools by
funding fringe benefits and workers compensation for charter school
employees, which were previously taken out of each charter school's
It "will be a tremendous boost to us
financially," said Pat Rice, Waimea Middle School administrator. Her
school converted to charter status last year. Although acknowledging
that the per-pupil allocation "could be higher," Rice said she's
pleased with bill.
"We want to use as much money as we can on
our students," Rice said. "It needs to go toward improving
education, not for workers comp and fringe benefits."
The bill also represents important recognition of
public charter schools in the state, Shon said. "It's saying, 'We
have them and we want them to succeed. One of the most important
things is that it provides more clarity and accountability for
charter schools." With that, said the former state legislator, it
will be easier to persuade the Legislature to distribute education
funds equitably throughout the public schools.
charter schools receive operating funds on a per-pupil basis
determined by a statutory formula. But in 2004, instead of receiving
approximately $5,700 per pupil in accordance with the formula,
charter schools received approximately $4,600 per pupil due in part
to "inappropriate figures reported by the department of budget and
finance," according to the bill.
The DOE's most recent report
2003-04 indicated that regular students actually were being funded
with more than $8,000 each. "The funding formula is more crucial now
that the Legislature did not follow it," Shon said.
bottom line is that we're funded at a lower level than the regular
schools," said Thatcher said. "It's mind-boggling that the
legislators who make the laws don't follow the law. It doesn't make
The Big Island is home to 12 of the state's 27 public
charter schools, which were authorized by law in 1999 as
alternatives to the regular public schools. About 2,500 students
attend Big Island charter schools and enrollment is growing, said
Steve Hirakami, principal of the Hawaii Academy of Arts and Sciences
Public Charter School in Keaau.
Removing the cost of fringe
benefits should save charter schools about $7 million statewide,
"It's good," said Hirakami. "It solidifies the
budget ahead of time." But Hirakami is disappointed that while the
per-pupil funding will increase by about $600 for charter school
students under the bill, the amount will remain significantly lower
than what regular public school students receive.
charter school student worth that much less to the state than a
regular school student?" Thatcher asked. "It's a pure equity
The bill also establishes a 16-member task force to
recommend additional changes to the laws pertaining to charter
schools. "There is still a lot of work to be done," Shon
Hunter Bishop can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.