Critics bash school funding plan
Students and faculty of large isle schools say a proposed formula will shortchange needy kids
Representatives from some of Hawaii's largest public high schools took turns bashing proposed changes to the state's school funding system yesterday, saying it would shortchange some of Hawaii's neediest students.
A string of parents, students, teachers and principals vented to a Board of Education committee about the recommended changes, which would reverse a funding shift that promised to benefit bigger schools.
"The status quo is maintained and where does that leave us? Nothing has changed," Hilary Nakasone, a senior at 1,878-student Leilehua High School, told members of the board's Budget Committee.
Yesterday's meeting kicked off what is shaping up as a small-versus-large-school battle over the funding changes, which board members hope to decide on by mid-September.
Last year, it was small schools that gave board members an earful over the weighted student formula, a system of assigning schools more money for poor, non-English-speaking and other students considered more challenging to educate.
In its current form, by 2010 the formula would shift millions of dollars to larger schools, with their heavy populations of such students, but threatens some smaller campuses with insolvency.
That impact on small schools led the state Committee on Weights, which adjusts the formula annually, to soften the formula considerably in this year's recommendations.
Now, larger schools are angry that their expected funding gains would vanish and that some would actually see budget cuts.
"This will negatively impact schools that are already insufficiently funded. It will benefit small schools, but not the larger ones," said Laura Morikawa, chairwoman of Leilehua's School Community Council.
The weighted student formula affects about 70 percent of school-level funding. The board does not have to accept the Committee on Weights' recommendations.
The key change suggested by the committee is that about one-quarter of the roughly $900 million affected by the formula be taken out and distributed to schools as "foundation funding" to ensure basic operations are funded.
This would effectively reduce the funding shift to large schools.
Large-school principals said their economies of scale, which result in smaller per-pupil funding, save the state millions each year, which goes unrecognized.
Students and teachers said the promise of more funding had fueled hopes of hiring badly needed teachers, implement needed programs and buying school supplies.
"For most classes in math or geometry, you have to share a textbook. How can you really learn without talking your book home?" said Henry Balatbat, a student at Waipahu High School.
Board members, some of whom have pushed to soften the impact on small schools, sought to tamp down the expectations of those offering testimony.
But as the testimony grew more impassioned, some members took verbal shots at the state Legislature for passing the 2004 law requiring the formula while not providing additional funding to implement it.
A pair of education finance experts who analyzed Hawaii's formula earlier told members there is no evidence weighted funding has boosted student performance on the mainland.
Despite that, Superintendent Pat Hamamoto said she believes strongly that weighted funding can give schools much-needed extra capabilities.
"Having been in a classroom, I can guarantee you that an ESL (English as a Second Language) student takes a lot more out of you," said Hamamoto, a former teacher and principal.
The budget committee's meeting on Aug. 30 will provide another opportunity for public testimony. Hamamoto is due to give the Department of Education's position then.