DOE eyes new funding formula
The plan would make a 15 percent cut the limit a school would face for three years
Department of Education officials hope that planned changes to a controversial new school-funding formula will soften the financial blow to some schools and win over a skeptical Board of Education.
Among the changes planned, the department would cap the amount of funding lost by any school at 15 percent for the first three years. In the fourth year, schools would be expected to fully comply with the formula, said Robert Campbell, the department's director of program support and development.
The new system, which aims to more equitably distribute money to schools, is required by state law to be in place by next school year.
However, board members have balked at approving the system due to hefty budget cuts some schools will suffer, particularly rural schools and some that are already struggling to meet academic performance targets.
An existing provision spreads out any loss or gain over three years, with one-quarter felt the first year, one-half the second year and the final one-quarter phased in during the third year.
Money lost under the proposed 15 percent cap also would be spread out along those lines.
Moreover, some schools that, due to "unique situations," would be unable to handle even a 15 percent reduction could be spared any cuts indefinitely until staffing or other conditions at the school change in such a way that the cuts are manageable, Campbell said.
"These would be unique situations that make it difficult for a school to operate under the Weighted Student Formula," Campbell said.
In a supplemental budget request unveiled on Tuesday, the department plans to ask the Legislature for $2.2 million a year for the next three years to help fund the adjustments.
The department identified the Weighted Student Formula as a "top-priority item" in the budget requests, which totaled a whopping $453 million.
"The final shape of this would depend on whether we get the money, how much we get and how long it's made available," Campbell said.
Schools say the board's indecision on the formula prevents them from starting work on 2006-07 academic and financial plans, which are due to be completed by late December.
Board member Garrett Toguchi called the latest proposals "stopgap" ideas resembling "the little boy putting his thumb in the dike."
The formula assigns funding "weights" to types of students deemed more costly to educate, such as English language-learners and students who change schools in midterm.
Toguchi and others want the department to demonstrate clearly that the weights are fair and how they were determined. They also want to see justification for budget cuts at already cash-strapped schools.
"I'm personally looking for validation of the formula, that it's not going to hurt schools and that it's done fairly," said Toguchi, who adds that the department's caps only delay the inevitable.
"It's like having terminal cancer. You can put it off but eventually you're going to die," he said.
The board could take up the issue again during its next meeting, Oct. 6 on Lanai.