Flaws cited in school funding
A review also finds a lack of data to support the state's "weighted student formula"
Hawaii's new school funding system might contain key flaws, and there is virtually no existing data to determine whether it has been devised properly, according to an independent review.
Though it judged the so-called "weighted student formula" to be a step toward funding equity, the analysis by a pair of mainland university professors said such positives are undermined by recent steps to slow the formula's implementation to minimize disruption.
It also suggested the system cannot achieve its goals of raising up all students without increasing the state's education budget.
The review was conducted by professors Bruce Baker of the University of Kansas and Scott Thomas of the University of Georgia under contract to the Hawaii Board of Education.
The formula, which goes into effect in the coming school year, assigns higher funding "weights" to types of students considered more costly to teach, such as the economically disadvantaged and non-native English speakers.
Schools with more of such students would get a greater share of funding, which has sparked an outcry from mostly small and rural schools facing resulting cuts.
Board members upset with those cuts sought the review to determine whether the formula, devised by a state committee, was sound.
But the review says the formula actually might not go far enough, suggesting that the weights assigned to poor students and English learners should be even higher.
Hawaii's current weights for such students are "both much smaller" than those suggested by previous research, it said, though it also suggested some steps to ensure small and rural schools are protected.
The review also questioned the Legislature's allocation of $20 million to schools this year, which completely offsets the formula's impact in the first year, as well as the Board of Education's decision to slowly phase in the formula over several years.
However, board member Garrett Toguchi, who has been particularly critical of the budget cuts faced by some schools, pointed to the report's own finding that there is little existing evidence to indicate how an optimum formula should look since only a few communities nationwide have implemented it.
"I think this shows that we just don't have that answer yet," he said.
Among several problems pointed out by the review, lower-achieving schools critically need higher-quality and more specialized teachers, but the state's teacher salary structure does not allow principals discretion to pay higher salaries to teachers they really want.
"As such, at least some of the poverty weighting achieved by high-poverty schools is squandered by purchasing lower-quality teachers at average cost," it said.
Despite the report's findings, the state weights committee is now ironing out future adjustments to the formula that would further soften its impact.
"This is in no way critical of the review, but you don't decide to take up running and then go out and run a marathon the first day," said Robert Campbell, director of program support and development.