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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, November 13, 2006

Charter schools need a stronger advocate

The state Board of Education this week has a great opportunity to move toward improvement of our charter school system.

The board will meet in executive session and will likely comply with the Office of Information Practices' demand to release the minutes of a closed meeting during which Jim Shon, former executive director of the Charter School Administrative Office, was fired.

But that's just the tip of a much broader issue. Shon's departure underscores the need to redefine the role of the charter school executive director.

Under the current structure, the director serves as the chief advocate for charter schools, while also functioning as their primary watchdog on behalf of the BOE.

Charter school leaders such as Ku Kahakalau of Kanu o ka 'Aina on the Big Island express frustration for having to deal with same person who must fight before the board for full per-pupil funding, but who then must also carry out the BOE's demand for funding cuts.

Kahakalau suggests a better method that is considered a best practice in other states: a system of multiple authorizers. This would allow other entities, such as the University of Hawai'i, to authorize charter schools and take responsibility for their success. That system bypasses the conflict of interest with the charter school office and allows the authorizer to deal directly with the BOE.

It also assures charter schools have a strong and independent advocate who believes in the school and its mission. And it provides maximum autonomy with the right degree of accountability.

State House Education Committee Chairman Roy Takumi, D-36th District (Pearl City, Palisades), said the charter school system may not be ready for multiple authorizers yet. But he says the contradictory role of the charter office will be addressed in the next legislative session.

It's clear that charter schools need a strong advocate if they are to thrive and fulfill their mission as education laboratories of innovation. And the Legislature must ensure that happens soon.