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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 29, 2002

Charter schools win increase

By Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writer

The state yesterday increased its allocations for Hawai'i's struggling charter schools by almost 20 percent per student.

But leaders of the fledgling alternative education program said they can't keep going indefinitely without yet more money from the Legislature.

Hawai'i's 22 charter schools use public dollars but have their own boards and, with fewer Department of Education rules to follow, they have more freedom to tailor teaching to each of their 3,066 students.

State Auditor Marion Higa announced yesterday that she is increasing the $2,997-per-pupil allocation for the charter schools by $588 per student on O'ahu and $567 per student on the Neighbor Islands.

Higa's action came as attorneys for the state auditor and the Department of Education staved off an immediate judgment in a lawsuit dealing with money going to charter schools.

In a press release, Higa said the new allocation was based on state law, new information from the DOE, and the department's transfer of some overhead and administration costs to charter schools.

John Thatcher, head of the Hawaii Association of Charter Schools, said the new money was not enough. He also said Higa didn't consult the schools and faulted her for that. Higa could not be reached for comment.

Thatcher teaches at the Connections, a Big Island charter school that requested a quick decision in its suit to force the state to provide more money but was turned down yesterday.

Circuit Judge Greg Nakamura ruled in Hilo that the school would have to raise the issues at trial.

David Kimo Frankel of Legal Aid, which represents Connections, said the school's plight is typical.

On June 28, the school was told by the state that it would get $1,460,000 from the DOE. Then, in October, it was advised that it would get only $935,000, Frankel said. The additional $176,904 from Higa yesterday "unquestionably helps, but there is still a significant shortfall," Frankel said.

The state also has said it will give its per-pupil allocation only for the 312 regular students at the school and not count the 47 special-education students there, Frankel said.

Frankel said allocations originally covered fixed costs that any school would have, such as for a principal. But, according to Frankel, the Legislature later said it would pay per pupil only.

The House Finance Committee this afternoon will hear bills that may help the schools.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Norman Sakamoto, D-16th (Moanalua, Salt Lake), said charter schools "certainly need" Higa's new allocation.

He said a bill to give charter schools more support — "still a work in progress" — will probably go to House-Senate conference.

The key, he said, is to give to charter schools without taking from public schools.

Reach Walter Wright at wwright@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8054.