Wednesday, February 6, 2002

Kamehameha trust
supports charter schools

The trust wants to partner with
the state to reach Hawaiians

By Lisa Asato

Hawaii's charter school movement, which has been plagued with funding and personnel issues, may benefit now that Kamehameha Schools wants to step into the fray, observers said yesterday.

The high-profile trust wants to partner with the state in educating students from kindergarten through 12th grade as a way to reach more native Hawaiian children.

The House Education Committee yesterday heard testimony on House Bill 2014, which would allow nonprofit organizations to manage and operate a new century conversion charter school.

The charter school's local school board would consist of the nonprofit's board of directors.

Many of those testifying supported the idea, but some of them expressed reservations -- particularly leaders of existing charter schools, who said existing problems have not been addressed.

"I sincerely appreciate Kamehameha reaching out to more students to expand their reach to Hawaiian students," said Ku Kahakalau, director of Kanu o ka Aina charter school in Waimea. "That's something we 100 percent support."

But she added that there are "major issues in existing charter school law that are preventing a very good law (from being) implemented."

Leaving the hearing, however, she said Kamehameha Schools may help the charter school movement.

"Kamehameha Schools coming into it may push the issue more to the forefront because it's obviously very different when you're dealing with Kamehameha Schools versus when you're dealing with a few grass-roots communities," said Kahakalau.

Hawaii's charter schools are publicly funded and are free from most laws and regulations except collective bargaining, health and safety, discrimination and federal policies. Schools are held accountable for student performance and funding through a contract, or charter, with the state.

Hamilton McCubbin, Kamehameha Schools chief executive officer, said if the bill passed during the current legislative session, the nonprofit would likely be able to begin its new role starting in August 2003.

McCubbin told the House Education Committee yesterday that Kamehameha Schools would help to establish a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization to manage and operate the charter schools.

The Hawaii Business Roundtable, the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools and The Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii all support the idea.

The Hawaii Government Employees Association and the Hawaii State Teachers Association both opposed the bill.

In written testimony Randy Perreira, HGEA deputy executive director, said, among other things, the bill "does not clearly articulate the intended impact on current employees of the school."

Karen Ginoza, HSTA president, echoed others' concerns about lack of funding for current charter schools.

Rep. Mark Takai (D, Waimalu, Waiau, Royal Summit, Newtown) said the trust's interest in partnering with the state would bring attention to problems charter schools are facing.

"I am convinced we need to find a way to make this work," Takai said after the hearing.

"The details still need to be worked out," the committee vice chair added, "but the idea of having Kamehameha partner with the (state Department of Education) to educate Hawaii's children is one of the greatest ideas I've heard in a long time."

The committee deferred decision-making until 2 p.m. Tuesday in Room 329 of the state Capitol.

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