“Laura Brown Image”

The Hawaii state Legislature can make a big step toward reforming and making more effective Hawaii’ s public school system by addressing Hawaii’ s flawed charter school law.

However, it will take cooperation and leadership of both parties in the state Legislature, the Board of Education and Department of Education School Superintendent Pat Hamamoto to steer the system, away from the Titanic-like path it is now on, toward school choice and student achievement.

Hawaii’s minority party in the state Legislature said yesterday it is ready to do its part to help further the success of Hawaii’s charter schools.

House Republicans plan to introduce legislation that raises the limit of new century charter schools from 23 to at least 30, establishes a charter school commission, and amends the law to mandate a small school subsidy.

Senate Republicans have similar ideas. Senators say they want to double the authorized amount of charter schools and require the state Department of Education and state Board of Education keep separate charter school and regular public school legislative budget requests so they can be monitored to ensure proper funding. They also want to require a budget report from the auditor’s office within 30 days of the release of the second round of charter school funds. For teachers, they have plans to ensure equal benefits, tenure, probationary status, seniority and accrued retirement transfer from the public schools to the charter schools or vice versa.

While the assistance to charter schools is welcomed by those working to forward school choice, they say many charter schools are in crisis because the state Legislature completely missed the boat in the late 1990s when creating the charter school law.

The state Legislature weakened the charter movement substantially by including collective bargaining, capping the number of schools allowed and restricting the schools through mandates that charters could only be established through “conversions” of existing public schools.

Other problems with the law included making the Board of Education accountable for the charter schools while leaving the Department of Education’s superintendent off the hook and omitting any measurable goals, objectives or benchmarks.

Most damaging is the per pupil funding formula minus expenditures that left charter schools with essentially half the funding of regular public schools from the state, while relying on federal funding that was not dependable to make up the difference. Due to its weak charter school law, Hawaii reportedly lost out on $12 million dollars in federal funding, money desperately needed by the schools.

To fix the glaring problems, the state Legislature and Board of Education must do some of what was proposed by Republican lawmakers and more.

They must review existing charter school contracts and remove the cap on the number of charter schools as well as the requirement for collective bargaining. Lawmakers also must create chartering agencies; remove Board of Education members from the New Century Charter Review Panel; create well-defined procedures, rules and regulations; and legislate equal funding formulas for all students, meaning students in regular public schools will receive the same backing by taxpayers as their charter school peers. Schools also must be held accountable through an annual evaluation of charter schools for public and legislative review. However, more than fixing regulations, what is required to boost Hawaii’s charter schools and ensure the choice movement not only lasts, but flourishes, is so far lacking in Hawaii. That is a “can-do” attitude.

”’Laura Brown is the education reporter for HawaiiReporter.com and can be reached via email at”’ mailto:LauraBrown@hawaii.rr.com

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Hawaii Reporter is an award-winning, independent Hawaii-based news and opinion journal founded in 2001 and launched in February 2002. The journal's staff have won a number of top awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, including the top investigative news reporting awards, business reporting awards, government reporting awards, and online news reporting awards.