Funding formula revised to help shrinking schools
The Board of Education voted last night to change the way it funds schools to protect those with declining enrollments.
Also under changes to the so-called Weighted Student Formula passed in a 8-2 vote, public schools outside Oahu would receive about $20 more per student to offset higher operational costs beginning in the 2008-09 school year.
Officials from rural and neighbor island schools applauded the changes, but others noted that high-enrollment schools will lose out in the revisions.
The current formula, which aims to make funding equitable among schools, channels more money to needy students such as low-income, special-education and non-native English-speakers. But schools with fewer such students, as well as those with declining enrollment, stood to lose money.
So far, to prevent drastic cuts to schools, the formula has been phased in during the past and current school years, and the Legislature has appropriated $20 million in each year as a funding cushion.
Without the help, some schools could have lost more than a quarter of their budget in extreme cases, education officials have estimated.
But with the formula headed for full implementation next school year, the board passed a "sliding scale" last night to ensure small schools can at least cover the basic expenses. The scale kicks in when enrollment reaches less than 650 students at elementary schools, 850 students at middle schools and 1,700 students at high schools.
Roger Takabayashi, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, said the effect of a scale that will shift some $20 million throughout Hawaii schools remains unclear.
In the 2005-06 school year, before the weighted formula began, he said, "schools at least had sufficient resources to provide basic educational services for our students, such as librarians, counselors."
Several school board members echoed Takabayashi's concern.
Donna Ikeda said she had "serious reservations" about the scale, pointing to projected funding cuts at Leeward Coast schools dealing with a homeless crisis.
"We know that extra resources need to go in that area," she said, "yet the department has not made a commitment" to accomplish that.
She also was puzzled about schools with similar enrollments losing money while others gained.
School board member Breene Harimoto also voted no, saying he felt the full board needed more time to study the changes.
"I feel I'm being rushed prematurely on this decision," he said.
Board member Herbert Watanabe backed the revisions but asked the Education Department to collect more data about the formula's impact. "I urge the department to look at that," he said.
Claire Yoshida, principal of Konawaena Elementary School in Kealakekua, praised the board for understanding the financial hardships of schools on Kauai, Lanai, Molokai, Maui and on the Big Island. Schools on those islands, she said, face higher costs to ship supplies from Oahu and to fly teachers to professional development seminars on Oahu.
"I have to pay mileage from school to the airport, I have to pay parking at the airport, I have to pay for overnight, hotel, car rental," she told a school board committee on Wednesday.
The revisions were recommended by a committee of teachers, principals and volunteers who have been trying to determine the actual cost of educating a students based on various needs, or "weights."