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Published in Print: October 26, 2005, as Charters With Native Hawaiian Focus Get Aid Infusion

Charters With Native Hawaiian Focus Get Aid Infusion

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With the Hawaii Department of Education unable to provide any additional money for the state’s charter schools, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs has allocated $2.2 million to the 14 charter schools that have Hawaiian-focused programs.

The grants are meant to provide stopgap funding over a two-year period while the OHA, a state agency that focuses on the needs of Native Hawaiians, continues to push the legislature for more money for charter schools.

“This is truly a commitment by the OHA trustees to support the success of our Hawaiian children in the charter school setting,” Huanani Apoliona, the chairwoman of the board of the Hawaiian-affairs agency, said in a press release.

Of the 14 schools, which serve about 1,700 students, four are Hawaiian-language immersion schools, two offer bilingual instruction in Hawaiian and English, and the other eight conduct most instruction in English, but offer Hawaiian-language classes.

Three of the schools are on the island of Kauai; five are on Hawaii, known as the Big Island; five are on Oahu; and one is on Molokai.

Alvin Parker, the director of the 311-student Ka Waihona o ka Na’auao charter school, said the money—more than $200,000 for his school—would be used to make building repairs and possibly create a faculty parking lot. But Mr. Parker said his school, located along the Waianae Coast on the western side of Oahu, is one of the lucky charters because it has an adequate facility.

The OHA board voted in favor of the grants on Oct. 6 after Jim Shon, the executive director of the state education department’s charter school office, gave a presentation to the trustees that highlighted the reasons why more funding from the state education agency wasn’t available.

He described the department as “completely absorbed with its own series of major changes,” and as “under great stress” because of the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, a new student-funding formula for all schools, and ongoing disputes with Gov. Linda Lingle, a first-term Republican who wants to decentralize the single statewide school district.

“Initially, I think the trustees, or some of them, wanted to cast some blame on our regular department of education,” Mr. Shon said in an e-mail message. “But I tried to make the case that our [department] has too much on its plate to worry about Hawaiian charter schools. So it was up to OHA to step up and provide funds.”

Mr. Shon acknowledged that the state’s 13 charter schools without a Hawaiian focus might be feeling left out, but Mr. Parker noted that Native Hawaiian students are the most disadvantaged in the state.

Funding Disputes

The funding problems plaguing the Hawaiian-focused schools are also shared by the rest of the state’s charter schools.

Hawaii has 27 New Century Charter Schools, which were created to provide a variety of innovative educational techniques. As with many charter schools nationwide, they receive less operating aid and no money for facilities in exchange for greater autonomy from the state.

But the per-student funding formula for the 4-year-old program has been a matter of constant debate.

According to Mr. Shon’s presentation, which was shared with Education Week, charter schools are supposed to receive $6,500 per student. Instead, they receive $5,600, meaning that there was not enough money to cover about 800 of the more than 5,500 students attending the schools in the current school year.

During this year’s legislative session, lawmakers added $1.2 million for charter schools for fiscal 2005 and $1.5 million for fiscal 2006, but still the supplement leaves the schools about $5 million shy of what the formula says they should receive, Mr. Shon contends. Hawaii charters get about $32 million in state aid this fiscal year.

“I do think charters deserve more dollars,” said Rep. Roy M. Takumi, a Democrat and the chairman of the House education committee. “The question is, with those dollars, what kind of accountability are we looking for?”

In his presentation, Mr. Shon also predicted that some charters would continue to struggle, and that some might experience “internal collapse from sheer exhaustion.”

He said it’s unrealistic for the schools to expect a lot more funding from the department, and added that the financial outlook could grow worse if enrollments increase and the formula remains underfunded.

Nevertheless, Mr. Shon said, some of the state’s charter schools are among its highest-achieving schools.

During the 2003-04 school year, charter school students outperformed students at regular Hawaii public schools on state achievement tests and on the SAT college-admissions exam.

Rep. Takumi added that if some of the charter schools didn’t exist, the students they are serving would be dropouts. “They do provide an option,” he said.

Vol. 25, Issue 09, Page 26

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