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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 6, 2006

Keep politics out of funding for schools

With the complicated weighted student formula for funding public schools in its early stages, there have been signs lawmakers might weaken in their resolve to budget based on school needs rather than some arbitrary formula.

Legislators are under tremendous political pressure to make "whole" schools that may see their budget reduced under the weighted formula.

That is wrong. To bring every school up to par ignores the intent of weighted spending, in which money is distributed based on individual student needs at each school. This forces schools to make informed decisions about the best use of resources.

It appears lawmakers have, at least for now, resisted the impulse to go to a pork-barrel list of schools that would get extra money to make up for what the weighted formula "takes away."

The latest version of a bill designed to help schools convert to a weighted formula (Senate Bill 3195, SD2, HD1) throws extra money into the pot to ease the transition, but the cash is not tied to individual schools.

Rather, it would increase the amount available to all schools by an extra $20 million, but the weighted formula still applies. As long as specific spending control is left to the Department of Education, this is a valuable addition.

A second unspecified amount (perhaps $2 million to $3 million) would go directly to help schools "hurt" in the first round of weighted funding. Decisions on how this money would be allocated would appropriately be left to the superintendent.

The bill falters in setting aside another $20 million for a variety of programs, some from the department and others from legislators. While these ideas, such as money for science textbooks and "debit cards" for teachers to buy classroom supplies, have merit, they should not be dictated by the Legislature.

If the money is there, give it to the DOE and let professional educators spend it.

It's the job of lawmakers to decide how much to allot to competing priorities. But once the money is assigned to education, let the department decide how it should be spent.