New formula will help reinvent Hawaii schools
THERE have been concerns about schools losing monies, librarians losing their positions and performing arts programs being eliminated because of the Weighted Student Formula. In what follows, we will be looking at the history and purpose of WSF, and what it means for public education in Hawaii.
In 2004, the Legislature passed the Reinventing Education Act (Act 51), which radically restructured public education in Hawaii. WSF is a key component of the 2004 Reinventing Education Act. Its purpose is to improve public education in Hawaii by bringing greater equity and fairness to school spending.
Under the old system, education funding was based on student enrollment. However, it did not take into account population shifts, student demographics, special needs and immigration trends. As a result, for the school year 2005-2006, Kaiser High School received $5,135 per student, whereas Farrington High School received $4,012 per student.
UNDER WSF, education funding will be based upon characteristics of individual students. The formula gives added weight, or money, for students who are poor, have recently moved, have special needs, are at risk or are learning English as a second language. Weights also are assigned to smaller schools, the early grades in elementary schools and middle schools.
Under the new system, the Legislature will continue to determine the overall funding for public education. The Board of Education will then decide how the monies should be allocated among the various schools using a formula recommended by the Committee on Weights. The committee is made up of people chosen by the BOE. Although the Legislature mandated that the BOE establish a Committee on Weights, it is the responsibility of the BOE to determine what the weights will be.
Implementation of WSF is in its early stages. The shifts under WSF can be quite dramatic. Under the December 2005 proposed WSF, four high schools stand to gain more than $1 million a year, while 15 elementary and intermediate schools could lose $500,000 a year in funding.
WSF, ALONG with the other components of Act 51, will be the driving force behind the restructuring of public education in Hawaii. The funding of education is no longer top-down from the Legislature and the BOE. Under the new system, school principals together with School Community Councils have discretionary powers to decide how education monies should be allocated. WSF is designed to ensure a fair and equitable distribution of education funds among Hawaii's students, it is now up to the school principals together with the School Community Councils to decide how best to allocate education monies for the benefit of the students.
With our improved economy, the Legislature is considering several ways to help students by increasing the amount of funds to be allocated by the WSF. Two bills were introduced this session: Senate Bill 3195 SD1 would provide $23 million to augment funds to schools, and Senate Bill 3102 SD1 would require lowering the student-teacher ratio and provide funds to hire an additional 400 teachers to reach this desired ratio. These teachers include resource teachers for programs such as art, music, physical education, and gifted and talented, as well as librarians, counselors or special motivation teachers.
Sen. Norman Sakamoto (D, Moanalua-Salt Lake-Foster Village-Pearl Harbor) is chairman of the Senate Committee on Education and Military Affairs.