BOE should not lose sight of funding strategy's goal
A committee has come up with new recommendations for budgeting money to schools.
ESTABLISHING a method to deal out funds to public schools based on student needs continues to provoke objections despite honest efforts to be fair. As the state Board of Education looks over a committee's recommendations
, members should keep in mind that the strategy is aimed at getting money to the children who most need it to succeed academically and that it likely will be a work in progress for years to come.
The Department of Education is attempting the daunting task of adapting a funding mechanism that has been used in smaller school districts on the mainland but never in a system as large as Hawaii's statewide complex.
Under the weighted student formula, a school's funds are tied to the students whose education generally costs more, such as non-English speakers, children with disabilities and those from poor families.
In the first go-round, the formula met with opposition because smaller schools and those in rural areas would have received what some board members and administrators said was too little for even basic operations.
The new formula would guarantee base funding for all schools, ranging from $666,000 for elementary schools to $1.37 million for high schools. However, those allocations would cut by a quarter the $919 million that is supposed to be distributed by need.
Schools with large populations of more heavily "weighted" students would then see less money in their budgets, diluting the objective of the formula.
The board has already slowed the application of the formula, an appropriate move in light of the difficulties, and asked for a re-examination of the fundamentals and their consequences by a new committee.
The revamped formula increases the weight for geographically isolated schools, adds a new one for at-risk students and introduces three funding levels based on language fluency, all reasonable designations.
Another recommendation is to create a full-time office to develop, coordinate and assess the formula. While it might add to the department's bureaucracy, the board should consider the idea since adjusting the formula will be necessary as the education landscape changes and because it cannot continue to rely on a panel of volunteers as it has thus far.
The funding formula has worked well in raising academic achievement in other school districts but needs to be fitted to Hawaii's system. It will be controversial, but its promise of turning out better-educated children is worth the effort.