Plan eases school budget shifts
A proposed revision to the state's new school funding formula would delay painful budget cuts faced by some schools -- as well as corresponding budget gains at others -- at least through the 2007-08 school year.
The state committee charged with revising the "weighted student formula" for the 2007-08 school year has come up with a plan that would give schools more time to adjust to the full brunt of the formula, which was mandated by the Legislature two years ago.
Chairman Bruce Coppa said the Committee on Weights is not flouting legislative intent, but that the original version of the formula drawn up by last year's committee and which goes into effect in the 2006-07 school year was "too drastic."
"It's like when you're getting into cold water; you get in little by little," he said. "As it stands now, (schools are) getting dunked in, and they froze."
Under the formula, more funding shifts to schools that have more students considered more costly to educate -- such as non-native English speakers or low-income students. But that money comes at the expense of schools that have fewer such students.
However, decision-makers concerned about large budget losses at some schools have taken steps to ease the impact when the formula debuts in a couple of months.
The Board of Education voted late last year to phase in the funding shift over four years. The Legislature allocated this year an extra, stopgap $20 million divvied up among all schools to ensure none suffered a loss in 2006-07.
Smaller and rural schools were among the hardest hit, and their principals have complained that the current formula ignores their higher per-pupil operating costs. Some principals said the cuts threatened basic educational programs and key staff positions like librarians and custodians.
A total of $854 million in school funding is to be divided up by the weighted student formula in 2006-07. However, the current weights committee has reached general consensus on a plan that would divide 25 percent of that pot, or $213.5 million, among schools as a guaranteed base funding amount.
The weighted formula would be applied to the remaining 75 percent, or $640.5 million.
The committee also is including new weighting categories for students in programs for at-risk youths and might adopt weightings for neighbor-island schools and other categories.
Under the proposed revision, some schools that originally faced budget cuts of 20 percent or more would actually see no cuts and maybe even a small gain, according to projections. Meanwhile, others that were to enjoy budget gains will remain static or could see slight losses.
The plan is still being developed, but members agree on its main points. It is expected to be put to the BOE this summer for approval. If approved, it is likely to irk those principals who were looking forward to a badly needed budget boost.
Committee member Owen Matsunaga tendered his resignation to the board last month, fed up with what he called a move toward "retaining the status quo." The committee's job was merely to devise a weighting system for various student characteristics, he said, and it was overstepping its bounds in trying to minimize the impact on schools.
SCHOOL BUDGET CHANGES
Weighted Student Formula
» What is it? A state-mandated method of dividing up a large portion of state school operating funds on a per-pupil basis linked to student characteristics.
» How does it work? Schools get more per-pupil funding for students considered more costly to educate. These include the economically disadvantaged and non-native English speakers.
» How much money is involved? About $850 million for 2006-07.
» What's the problem? Some schools are slated for budget cuts that could hurt basic programs.
» What is being proposed? The committee that devises the formula wants to take 25 percent of the $854 million and distribute it to schools as basic funding exempt from the formula to ensure basic programs and positions survive. The plan has the effect of significantly softening the formula's overall impact. The tentative base funding amounts are: elementary schools, $666,285; middle schools, $1 million; and high schools, $1.3 million.