Hawaii's charter schools deserve support
Amid all the negative news about the economy and state of public education in Hawai'i, a glimmer of hope does exist: Hawai'i's public charter schools.
Within our state, there are 31 public charter schools, almost all of them less than a decade old. The majority are in rural O'ahu or Neighbor Island communities, and just over half are "Hawaiian-focused" public charter schools.
In 10 short years, Hawai'i's Public Charter School movement has managed to transform student learning, despite a severe disparity in funding, initially from the Department of Education, and subsequently from the Legislature. Hawai'i's PCS students are making significant academic gains, and research continues to show that these students are more engaged in school, have better attendance and have stronger family involvement.
Since their inception as "student-centered schools" in the 1990s, Hawai'i's charter schools have been forced to deal with funding issues that other public schools generally take for granted. For example, a charter school pupil does not receive the same per-pupil funding that non-charter school students receive, despite the fact that under state law, all public school students should rightfully receive an equitable allotment of support and resources. Charter schools face facilities issues, often having to spend instructional dollars on rented warehouses or other sub-standard facilities for their classrooms, while still having to raise additional funds to pay for basic needs such as maintenance and utilities.
Despite these difficulties, Hawai'i's charter schools have persevered and continue to provide innovative teaching and learning opportunities to our youth.
For years, the Hawai'i Charter School Network has lobbied the Legislature to provide equal funding for these 31 schools. Several bills have been introduced to address charter school funding and we welcome our legislators' efforts to assist with this situation. Several issues deserve further consideration:
We strongly encourage all policymakers to do what is pono. Each public charter school child and their taxpaying parents deserve a semblance of fair support on a consistent per child, per capita, per student basis. To treat these students as stepchildren of the DOE would be disgraceful.
Students also deserve access to school choice. Public charter school growth is driven by parent demand. Enrollment waitlists at charter schools currently total in the thousands, which clearly indicates demand is not being met. On behalf of taxpaying charter school parents, we continue to advocate that each of their keiki be funded as intended in the statute.
We appreciate the support that legislators have given to our schools this session. Clearly there is more work that needs to be done to bring clarity to this important issue of equitable support for public charter school students. Until that is achieved, HCSN seeks to avoid any further reductions in per pupil funding. A stable and fair allocation on the basis of each child is mandated by state law, and our students and parents deserve no less.
Alapaki Nahale-a is the president of The Hawaii Charter School Network. He wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.
Reach Alapaki Nahale-a at (Unknown address).