Tuesday, January 30, 2001
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Posted on: Tuesday, January 30, 2001

Additional charter schools in doubt

Formula for charter school success

By Alice Keesing
Advertiser Education Writer

Previous story:
Charter school costs not budgeted
Lawmakers may consider a moratorium on new charter schools until the confusion surrounding the reform movement is resolved, according to the chairman of the House Education Committee.

Six charter schools already are operating. Five more have been approved for the coming school year, but there are still many unanswered questions about how the schools will operate and where the money will come from to pay for them.

"We need to step back and take a look at the issue of charter schools and see if we can fix it," said Rep. Ken Ito, D-48th (Kaneohe).

Ito said a report released yesterday by the state auditor on financial allocations for charter schools will help decide how lawmakers want to tackle the issue.

The charter school reform movement was launched in Hawaii in 1999 with a law allowing 25 such schools statewide. The movement aims to free public schools from red tape and generate innovative methods and improvement within the public school system. Like independent public schools, charters are free to manage their own money and experiment with curriculum, but are still bound by collective bargaining and must open their doors to all students.

But some worry that the money for the new charters will come at the expense of existing schools. Department of Education officials say new staff for the charter schools would cost at least $6.8 million, and the governor did not include that request in his budget.

Board of Education member Donna Ikeda said there are too many unanswered questions surrounding charter schools. While she supports the concept, she said she’ll be voting against any more charters that come before the board.

"How can we in good conscience grant these charters when we don’t know how we’re going to pay for them?" she asked. "I think we’re leading people on. In the end it’s going to cause a tremendous problem for everyone concerned."

Schools chief Paul LeMahieu said a bill introduced this session could provide the answers that will keep the reform movement alive in Hawaii. LeMahieu suggests reducing a portion of the fixed costs the charter schools get because of their small enrollments.

"That could be the trade-off with some serious questions in some quarters about whether to have charter schools," he said.

To compound the confusion, charter school administrators say they’re still snared in the red tape and bureaucracy that the schools were designed to avoid.

"It is not running as smoothly as we would like it to be," said Nina Buchanan, director of the University of Hawaii Charter School Resource Center on the Big Island.

"Even though LeMahieu is very strong in his support of charter schools, his department is not ready, and he didn’t have anything in place."

Ku Kahakalau of Kanu O Ka üina Charter School on the Big Island said while good things are happening in the classroom, the bureaucracy has been a nightmare, and it has been difficult getting the department to release money allocated for the school.

Kahakalau said it’s also unclear what services charter schools are entitled to and what they must buy from the department. For example, Kahakalau said she doesn’t know if her staff can attend department professional development workshops, or if her students are eligible for E-School, the department’s on-line classroom.

Chuck Higgins, the sole department employee who works with the charter schools, said the system is still in the learning phase, but is being streamlined to avoid such problems.

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