UH Lab School nears charter status
By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer
Strengthening its ties with the state and possibly its precarious financial position, the University of Hawai'i Laboratory School has been approved for charter school status by the state Board of Education.
The Lab School, which lost all of its university financing and has been in danger of closing, now would be eligible to receive per-pupil financing from the state. The superintendent, the chairman of the Board of Education and Gov. Ben Cayetano still must approve the charter.
Because it cannot charge tuition, the Lab School has been applying for grants, and parents have raised and donated money to keep the campus open.
"The funding base would be more secure," said Donald Young, professor of education and associate director of the Curriculum Research Development Group, the research arm of the campus. "That was a valiant effort by parents to save the school, but you can't operate year by year like that."
The charter school status could also increase the possibility that more special-needs students would be accepted at the campus, Young said.
At the Lab School, known to many as UH High, 360 students from kindergarten through 12th grade participate in a curriculum experiment that for years has won national and international acclaim. Faculty members spend years developing and testing course work on Lab School students before publishing curriculum and textbooks to distribute to the rest of the world.
UH's recent budget woes have hit the Lab School particularly hard, though.
This school year, the school will lose the last $300,000 of the $1 million it had been receiving from the University of Hawai'i the entire operational budget of the campus.
If the charter is approved, the school would answer to the Board of Education instead of UH's Board of Regents for the first time, although its faculty and staff will remain UH employees.
"We always have been accountable to our students and our parents," Young said. "Now this adds the BOE into the mix."
Students are not accepted on the basis of good grades, but are chosen so that there will be a socioeconomic, ethnic and academic mix of students in the same classroom. The Lab School receives 1,200 applications for every 60 slots.
Arthur King, director of the Curriculum Development Research Group, said the charter school status should strengthen the relationship between UH and the DOE. Because the mission of the Lab School as a curriculum-development and research campus will not change, the school's admission procedures will stay in place, he said.
The state now has 25 charter schools. Ipu Ha'a Academy of Natural Sciences and Ni'ihau School of Kekaha also were approved as charter schools last week.
State schools superintendent Paul LeMahieu said that unless a charter school closes or the Legislature raises the cap, no more charter schools will be allowed.
Approval of the three schools brought disappointment to supporters of Ka Lama Ku, the only school that failed to make the final cut. Ka Lama Ku, a Hawaiian culture-based school in Hau'ula in Windward O'ahu, received almost $90,000 in federal money to start a charter school.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Reach Jennifer Hiller at email@example.com or 525-8084.