“Laura Brown Image”

Parents, students, teachers and charter school representatives are fighting at the state Legislature to get Democrat lawmakers, including the chairs of the education committees in the House and Senate, to support charter schools, including the establishment of more charter schools and equitable funding for them.

On the line, beside the closure of many of Hawaii’s charter schools and the failure of the progress of the choice in education movement, is $6 million in federal funding in jeopardy of being pulled by the U.S. Department of Education. A representative from the U.S. Department of Education, Dean Kern, recently flew to Hawaii from Washington D.C. to meet with Hawaii lawmakers about furthering choice in education and supporting charter schools, in accordance with to Pres. George W. Bush’s plan for America’s education system.

Kern told HawaiiReporter.com and other lawmakers he met with that he would not hesitate to pull the $6 million in federal funds if Hawaii lawmakers do not show a willingness to support charter schools through equal funding in accordance with what other publicly-funded schools in Hawaii receive. Something he has done in other states. He also expressed concern over the cap of 25 on the number of charter schools allowed to be established in Hawaii.

Charter school advocate have been lobbying for SB 1700 to be redrafted with language truly favorable to charter schools, rather than damaging.

They also asked lawmakers to remove uncalled for provisions to establish a 9-member charter school board that would have created competition with the existing State Board of Education, while receiving funds directly without oversight of the Board of Education. Kern says this board should not create additional bureaucracy and be in competition for funds with the Department of Education, rather the board should be in charge strictly of chartering schools.

Contrary to what Kern and many others in the charter movement said would benefit charter schools, Jim Williams, vice president for Political Action for the Hawaii Charter Schools Network, as well as chair of the charter school, Voyager School, supported in his testimony the ill-conceived amendments.

Williams’ position, which opposes the federal government’s position, was that “majority leaders” felt that public schools should not have to take “cuts” to pay for charter schools and therefore should receive separate funding from the Legislature. This position ignores the fact that charter schools are in fact public schools and publicly-funded schools, opponents of his position say.

Williams may have his own professional conflicts that prevent him from doing what is truly best for charter schools, and that seeming conflict concerns key leaders in the charter school movement.

Williams is listed with the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs as the agent for the non-profit Voyager School Foundation, which “distributes its income as determined by the board of directors to Voyager –

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