Education board adopts weighted funding plan
Opponents fear the change will slash already lean budgets
More than half of Hawaii's public schools will face a series of budget cuts over the next four years under a student-based funding formula approved last night by the state Board of Education.
The board passed the so-called "weighted student formula" in a 7-4 vote at its meeting at Maili Elementary School after hearing testimony from principals, teachers and parents, some of whom warned that the changes would mean drastic reductions in programs and staff.
"Teachers are extremely apprehensive of what will happen to their students, their schools," said Roger Takabayashi, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association. "Cutting budgets even further at any school is not in the best interest of any school or student achievement."
But others backed the changes.
"(Weighted student formula) will enable us to mentor new teachers and help them be more successful with our children," Maili Elementary School Principal Disa Hauge told board members. "WSF is our state's remedy to the issue of inequity. It may not be perfect, but for those of us who work in schools of poverty ... WSF is a beacon."
Some 137 schools will see their budgets shrink by as much as hundreds of thousands of dollars by 2010, while others expect gains of up to $1 million. Some schools will have no significant funding changes.
The cuts and increases are set to be phased in: Each school's funding will be adjusted by 10 percent in the coming year, 25 percent in 2007 and 50 percent in 2008. In five years the new formula will take full effect.
Board member Paul Vierling suggested the formula be phased in more quickly for schools set to gain. Cuts could be made to the state Department of Education, he said, to pay for budget increases to schools.
"I think it's a realistic request to ask the department to feel some of the pain," he said.
The formula is designed to calculate the costs of a student's education, allocating more money to those who are in poverty, who speak English as a second language or who are transient, like the children of military members. Students who go to smaller schools will have a higher "weight" because their education costs more.
Critics of the current budget system say it allocates funds under a hodgepodge of formulas, most of which are outdated. But opponents of the weighted student formula contend schools that face cuts will be forced to get rid of arts programs and noninstructional staff, including librarians.
The formula affects only state money.
And it uses the same $765 million instructional spending pot as the current system, which means every dollar cut at one school translates to a dollar gained at another school.
A committee made up of teachers, parents, principals and others designed the formula, which is a key part of the Reinventing Education Act of 2004. It does not affect funding of athletics, special education and other programs.
Six schools will be excluded from the formula: Hawaii Center for the Deaf and the Blind, Jefferson Orthopedic School and Pohukaina School, which serve special student populations; and Olomana, Keanae and Niihau schools, whose populations are so small that their funding would be skewed under the formula.