The Board of Education last night sparked a firestorm in the charter school reform movement by sending back unapproved an application by a Big Island school.
A 1999 law required the board to approve 25 charter schools. As long as an application is complete, the board cannot turn it down.
Board Chairman Herb Watanabe told applicants from Kua O Ka La Public Charter School that from now on, it will require all applicants to prove they have met building, health and fire codes when they apply.
Watanabe said the board had been advised to do so by the state attorney generals office. The ruling affects 14 charter schools still waiting for approval, and observers said it is a setback for the entire reform movement.
"Please understand that the board itself wants you to get a charter, but yet we have the responsibility because these are public charter schools … if something happens, we are liable," Watanabe said.
Libby Oshiyama, president of the Hawaii Association of Charter Schools, said she is furious about the decision.
The move comes amid growing concern from board members and legislators who say there are too many unanswered questions about how to pay for the new schools and how to ensure they offer a safe and appropriate education.
Susie Osborne, of Kua O Ka Las board, said she has watched the political climate surrounding charter schools and believes the decision is a school board effort to "slow things down."
"Im disappointed, but I understand the need for the politics, and the issues they are addressing are realistic and viable and acceptable," Osborne said.