Charter schools deserve budget fairness
The per pupil allocation for the students attending Hawaii public charter schools is about to go down by 11 percent. It's a huge unjustified cut that cannot be allowed to happen.
When we put in our budget request this year it showed an increase over last year. Knowing that this is a tight fiscal year no state agency should be looking for a larger budget than last year.
But we are not looking for a larger budget, just a fair one. Our budget need is greater because it is based on a per capita allocation and we just have more students.
Last year we received $8,149 per student. Now we are looking at $7,100 per student because our budget request was slashed. I am sure it was cut because it was definitely more money than we received as a statewide agency last year. However, it's not that simple.
The budget increase is necessary because of our statewide exploding enrollment. There are three new charter schools opening this year, and last year a Department of Education school converted to charter.
Despite the challenges presented by our facilities and our per capita allocations being lower than the DOE allocations, families in Hawaii continue to pick the schools of choice, the charter schools, which now account for 4 percent of the total public school population in the state. Should we not accommodate them? Should we not try to do more for more? Charter school operators can only do what they have always done - try to meet the demands of the communities they serve. It is one of the reasons for their success.
We knew when we submitted our budget that this coming year was going to be a tight budget year, yet at no time were we told not to enroll more students, and I wouldn't expect that, as these public school students are coming from other schools.
Every year charter schools have watched their enrollment grow and it appears that the DOE has watched their enrollment shrink. Has their budget been cut less than what they received last year? Maybe they did not get everything they asked for but they are not getting less than last year.
What we are seeking is the same per pupil funding as last year.
Some people might think we are already getting too much money. Well, I don't think so and I would like to give you a personal example of what this cut would mean to us at the Kihei Charter School and also why $8,149 per pupil is not enough.
In order to keep the doors open on our facilities we pay, in rent alone, $34,000 per month, and that does not count the $12,000 per month we pay in electricity costs. That is $550,000 a year right out of our education budget. If we take a $1,000 per student cut in our allocation, we will have $400,000 less to operate with than what we had conservatively projected for this coming school year.
That's a lot of money to lose and more than one small school should have to endure. You can see our cause for anxiety.
The charter schools are not asking for an increase in our per capita this year, though I think we should have one in the form of facilities stipends. What we would like is to be treated the same as other state agencies and not have to survive a deep cut.
Right now we have a budget amount of $56 million to serve a projected enrollment of 8,000 students - that is where the $7,100 per student allocation comes from. If you take $8,149 times the same projected amount of 8,000 students, that equals $65 million. That's nearly $8 million less than required; that money needs to be put back in the budget for charter schools.
I am sure there is a solution, we just need to come together and find it.
Gene Zarro is chairman of the Kihei Charter School Board